So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Peter 2:1-3
After having tasted that the LORD is good, after having believed in Christ, and after having been regenerated by the Spirit, one turns to slaying sin--putting away all malice. This can be a very confusing endeavor, for Scripture teaches us that all our efforts to mortify sin in our own strength fail. This doesn't keep us from trying desperately to tame sin with what John Owen calls "outside endeavours."
Outside endeavors abound as Christians and non-believers try to tame the tiger within. Extra-biblical religious laws and disciplines. Monasticism. Behavior modification techniques. Even biblical disciplines are called upon to control our sinful impulses, but tried without the Spirit of God. Owen says,
Because those things that are appointed of God as means are not used by them in their due place and order,--such as are praying, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like....Whereas they effect and accomplish the end as means only, subordinate to the Spirit and faith, they look on them to do it by virtue of the work wrought.*With Christ as my Savior, I see that all human efforts to mortify sin are a failure, even those efforts that are, in Owen's words, "appointed by God." Worse, the means that God gives us to mortify sin and seek after him are wrongly made into the end, the objective.
But it is the Spirit which mortifies sin in those who have tasted that the LORD is good.
All communications of supplies and relief, in the beginnings, increasings, actings of any grace whatever, from him, are by the Spirit, by whom he alone works in and upon believers. . . How doth he do it? Having "received the promise of the Holy Ghost," he sends him abroad for that end, the Spirit, as Tertullian speaks, "Vicariam navare operam," to do the works that he had to accomplish in us.*Sin will never be conquered outside the work of the Holy Spirit. Owen explains:
And, indeed, I might here bewail the endless, foolish labour of poor souls, who, being convinced of sin, and not able to stand against the power of their convictions, do set themselves, by innumerable perplexing ways and duties, to keep down sin, but, being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain. They combat without victory, have war without peace, and are in slavery all their days. They spend their strength for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which profiteth not.
This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in.*There is hope for this sad situation.
O LORD, you will ordain peace for us,
for you have indeed done for us all our works.
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
2 Thessalonians 1:11
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
When I say, "But it is the Spirit which mortifies sin in those who have tasted that the LORD is good," I have in mind those who have salvation by believing in Jesus Christ. This is to taste the goodness of the LORD. Having done that, in God's mercy, I am regenerated by the Holy Spirit and transformed.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.
*All quotes from John Owen's The Mortification of Sin are taken from chapter III, "The Spirit The Only Author Of This Work."