JI Packer Talks Mortification: How to Put Sin to Death

Renowned theologian J. I. Packer recently elaborated his views on how to put sin to death, saying that the first thing a Christian should do is ask God to "enable me to see the sin as He sees it."

And the way God sees sin, he explained, is as the "spiritual equivalent of dirt in places where cleanliness ought to be" and as "something very ugly."

"If the Father and the Son in mercy show me their love to me and draw out of me grateful love to them, if at the same time the Spirit makes me aware that my sinful habits are what they are and that each ... of them anathema to God, God wants to see the last of it, and through the power of the Holy Spirit He can actually bring that to pass," the 85-year-old Canadian author stated in a video featured on Desiring God ministry's website.

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Desiring God, led by John Piper, is preparing to host its national conference in Minneapolis in September and the theme of the event is "Act the miracle: God's work and ours in the mystery of sanctification."

"Few things it seems to me are more crucial than that we discern the relationship between human effort in the Christian life and a deep and profound reliance upon the sovereign, gracious, decisive work of God," said Piper, also an influential Reformed theologian, in his preview of the conference.

"For many people, this is a very puzzling paradox. Should I work if God is the decisive worker? Or is God the decisive worker?"

"Yes we do it but He does it in and through us. How does that work? What are the biblical foundations? ...
I'm eager to wrestle with this with you because I think we have to get this right in our life if we're going to glorify Jesus and display to the world the kind of works that cause Him glory in their eyes."

While Packer won't be a featured speaker at the conference, the Desiring God ministry asked the well-respected theologian to detail his views on mortification – or putting to death of sin – which the upcoming event will address.

Defining sin, Packer said it is "in the sense of ungodly and anti-God inclinations in the heart."

"They are positive inclinations to active disobedience and they are also negative – that is, inclinations not to bother about moral and spiritual issues. That kind of inclination used to be called sloth, spiritual laziness," he explained.

What the believer must recognize, Packer stressed, is that God is great and all powerful and ready to help while "I am weak" and in need of His help especially when trying to mortify sin.

Christians are called to holiness and are promised "all the enabling" needed to achieve holiness, he noted.

"I must ask the Lord to direct the Holy Spirit within me to drain the life out of sin and in prayer," he said.

"But as I pray regularly along these lines so I look to find and by the grace of God again and again I do find that the sinful desire which was grabbing my heart is getting weaker and love and loyalty to the Lord, spirit of praise and adoration, thanksgiving is getting stronger and stronger."

At that point, God drains the life out of love for sin and its habits.

But, Packer added, "I never get to the end of mortifying sin because sin in my heart where it's still marauding even though it's no longer dominant, sin in my heart is constantly expressing itself in new disorderly desires."

Sin is essentially like bindweed that is difficult to get rid of because it's "always extending itself under the surface of the soil" or in the heart, in this case.

With that, Christians need to practice the discipline of praying to mortify sin. And they should start right at the beginning of their Christian life and continue until the end of their life in this world, according to the theologian.

Packer, who was ordained in the Church of England, said he picked up the practice of mortification "very soon" after his conversion more than 65 years ago. According to his book  A Quest for Godliness, it was John Owen who helped him to be realistic about his continuing sinfulness and the discipline of mortification.

For the complete video, click here.

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