Theology

John Owen on Sin & Temptation

November 11, 2009

I’ve always heard a lot about John Owen’s monumental work on Sin and Temptation and how it was the definitive work to read on the subject. So, I finally got around to getting a copy and have really enjoyed his thoughts so far. Although he is a little difficult to read at times (you have to re-read a ton — but in a good way), he has really thought and studied a lot on the subject of sin and his insights are very helpful as well as convicting. In the little I’ve read so far I have been struck by how lightly I take sin and how poorly I have gone about about mortifying it. I will be posting some valuable insights that strike me from Owens as they come.

Right now I am reading about the “Mortification of Sin” — Owen gets this idea from Romans 8:13.”If you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body you shall live.” One of his first points is that it is our duty to mortify the flesh, yet it must be done by the Spirit. No other way will amount to any real progress in mortifying sin (i.e. fasting, accountability, confession, etc.) if the Spirit is not working to kill sin. But it is imperative we are active in our mortifying sin. On this Owens says:
“Do you mortify;
do you make it your daily work;
be always at it while you live;
cease not a day from this work;
be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Owens tries to make it clear that mortifying sin is something that is done every day, not merely when we are being tempted most or in that one area of sin that we constantly struggle with. He says that sin is “like the grave that is never satisfied” and thus it must be mortified every day, lest it have its way in our lives and take away our life. There is no progress in holiness without the daily mortification of sin. “Let not that man think that he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts.” We take sin too lightly to only deal with it when we are attacked visibly or when our biggest struggle rears its ugly head. We must be actively mortifying sin each and every day, or it will be gaining more and more ground in our lives.
It is a good reminder for me to daily deal with sin in my life — all of sin in my life, not just the most apparent or ugly sins. Too often I can remember periods in my life when I thought I was progressing in holiness because my sin was not apparent to me, or I had not been greatly tempted in some time. But one of the best weapons of the enemy is to go by unnoticed and keep me duped into thinking that I had no need to fight sin daily during this time of “victory.” I pray that I will always be more vigilant in the battle against sin in the future.
More insights from Owens in future posts…

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