Some years ago, “Dan,” a friend and fellow small-group member shared about his victory over a decade-long addiction. He described his sin-struggle in vivid detail, then celebrated God’s kindness in granting him victory over his addiction for almost twelve months.
Dan quickly grew disheartened, however, when we queried him about his long-term plan to maintain victory over his sin. He was grateful for the success thus far, but Dan’s new battle was the absence of sin’s companionship. “Those sins were my friends,” he pleaded.
Dan’s comment stuck with me and alerted me to the importance of emphasizing vivification as well as mortification with respect to personal and communal sin. The language of “mortification of sin” is familiar to many thanks to the brilliant 17th century, Oxford puritan John Owen. His book bearing the title The Mortification of Sin has motivated many for well over three centuries to “kill sin” in the flesh based principally on Paul’s words in Romans 8:13, “for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Indeed, the anthem to mortify sin must be sung frequently at high volume in the Christian community. But, I would argue the song of vivification should always accompany the former as part of the overall medley in triumph over sin and its effects.
While mortification implies subduing and ultimately killing something—sin, in this case—vivification implies giving life to something. In other words, when addressing personal and communal sin, it is important that while we take life from a particular sin we also fill the cavity left by sin with something life-giving. For some this will be more intentional spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture reading, meditation, journaling, solitude, etc. For others, vivification may take the form of more intentional community time with Christian brothers and sisters. And for others, something more active such as exercise or another outdoor hobby will inject life into sin’s hollow space.
Whatever the means, we must recognize that indeed “those sins were our friends,” and long-term victory over those sins means making new friends—life-giving friends.