Killing Sin, Simply Put

Be killing sin or it will be killing you. -John Owen

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. -Romans 8:13

I was rebuked yesterday, reminded that the repetition of Christian-sounding phrases doesn’t always communicate exactly what I think they do. In meeting with someone for counseling, I encouraged them to “kill your sin!” only to be met with questions and misunderstanding. You see, it turns out that just saying “kill your sin” doesn’t actually tell anyone what that means. It’s not as if sin is a physical thing that can be taken outside and shoved off a cliff. So what does it mean to kill sin?

Simply put…

We kill sin when we refuse to do it 

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23) The Christian life is one of self-denial, of saying no to the things we sinfully desire. The killing of sin begins and ends with this: saying no to yourself. Denying yourself the pleasure of that lustful look or refusing to wallow in the delights of your anger – this is the sum and substance of what we mean when we talk about killing sin. It’s the anti-Nike: just don’t do it.

We kill sin when we refuse to feed it 

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) If we are to be successful in saying no to our sinful desires, we must also be working to starve those same desires. While we may never be able to fully starve them into submission before we get to heaven, we can greatly weaken them with what we choose to put into our minds and hearts. If we’re honest, there are things we choose to do that, while they may not be sinful in and of themselves, feed the beast of temptation. Staying up late may feed the beast of poor Sabbath-keeping. Going to certain places at night may feed the beast of drunkenness. You get the point: figure out what the beast is and starve it!

We kill sin when we pray against it

“Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Rom. 7:24-25) Killing sin is a spiritual business in that it requires the aid of the Holy Spirit to be successful. If we line up on the battlefield against sin under our power, defeat is usually certain. But if we prayerfully go to battle by praying often (daily, hourly, minute-by-minute when needs be!), we line up behind Christ and His Spirit. We march toward a certain victory when we fight on our knees.

We kill sin when we pursue the opposite 

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)  Sin is parasitic, always feeding on something good and producing something bad through it. Were it not for the good and beautiful, sin couldn’t even exist. So part of killing sin is finding those things that sin is perverting and pursuing those with all our energies. Those who steal need to work hard. Those who lust need to love their husband or wife (present or future). Those who enjoy violence need to pursue the knowledge of the Prince of Peace.


Much more could be said. (If you’d like to read great work on this topic, you can’t do better than John Owen on the Mortification of Sin.) But hopefully this is enough for a simple and clear reminder.




  1. James Faris March 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Great reminder, Jared. Aaron Renn has recently published his book Killing Sin, which is a translation/adaptation of Owen’s Mortification of Sin. The English is thoroughly modernized, so it will drive the purist crazy. But, Owen is so difficult that several people I referred to it simply could not get through it. Renn is an easy read and fills a great need.

  2. Ellen Olivetti March 4, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    I was reminded recently, in my own life and in the life of someone we counsel, that even those of us who, by grace, know the truth and the Way, often do not take it, choosing instead to wallow in our sin. The question posed was this, “If I don’t feel like doing the right thing, if my motives are not right, should I ‘fake it until I make it?’ I say yes, by obedience we do what we are commanded to do, and the Holy Spirit comes and blesses that obedience by changing our motives and our feelings so that we want to do the right thing. What are your thoughts on this? If the Christian is NOT motivated by a desire to please Christ (II Corinthians 5:9), then how does he change those motives? If a Christian does not WANT to go to church or read his Bible or teach his children or love his wife, how does he go about changing his motives so that, eventually, he wants to do these things?

    • Jared March 12, 2015 at 8:20 am #

      Hi Mom…sorry for the late response (though we had a good conversation on the phone, I thought I’d wager an answer here for other readers.)

      So…yes, we should fake it until we make it. Although this is very simplistic, it constitutes the essence of what we are to do when we don’t feel like obeying God. We are to obey anyway. And, at the same time, probably repent of not wanting to obey in the first place.

  3. Kaye Hanson March 11, 2015 at 12:50 am #

    I’m wondering…what are your motivations to not sin? (I personally question myself on this frequently because I want to keep my motives and intentions in check.)

    • Jared March 12, 2015 at 8:23 am #

      Kaye, let me recommend Kevin DeYoung’s book The Hole in Our Holiness. In that book, he has a wonderful chapter outlining from Scripture no less than 30 or 40 (I can’t remember) Biblical motivations for obedience. I took his point as showing that there are multiple, true and good motivations for obedience (and, by extension, for not sinning). Loving God, desiring to be blessed, wanting to bless other people, etc…the Bible gives us more reasons than we can shake a stick at not to sin. 🙂


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