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Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Chapter 3)

Today we continue reading the classics together by turning to the second chapter of John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you’d like to know more about this project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together. The opening portion of the book, which we will complete next week, is based upon an exposition of Romans 8:13: “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.” Owen came to three conclusions: The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin; The mortification of indwelling sin remaining in our mortal bodies, that is may not have life and power to bring forth the works or deeds of the flesh, is the constant duty of believers; The vigor, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh. Last week was encouragement on the necessity of putting sin to death. This week we move to this portion of the exposition: “The Holy Spirit is the great sovereign cause of the mortification of indwelling sin.”

Summary

The Holy Spirit is the great sovereign cause of the mortification of indwelling sin

  1. Other remedies are sought in vain
  2. Why mortification is the work of the Spirit
    1. The Spirit is promised of God to be given unto us to do this work
    2. All mortification is from the gift of Christ, and all the gifts of Christ are communicated to us and given us by the Spirit of Christ
  3. How the Spirit mortifies sin
    1. By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh
    2. By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin
    3. By bringing the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith
  4. If the Spirit alone mortifies sin, why are we are exhorted to it?
    1. All graces and good works which are in us are his
    2. It is still an act of our obedience

Discussion

First, and by way of observation, I’d say that this chapter, though significantly shorter, was considerably more difficult than the previous one. It seemed that there were more difficult words and tough phrases than last week. Just when I was starting to get cocky and thinking that Owen wasn’t so difficult after all!

I carried one main thought out of this chapter. Much of this portion concerned “papists”—hardly a term in common use these days. This may serve to antiquate the chapter a little bit, but I think there is still much to learn from it. After all, I think Roman Catholicism is a perversion of true Christian theology and a system that so carefully incorporates man into God’s work. Owen would agree. While I may not be Roman Catholic, I still feel the temptation to allow my man-centered desires to interfere with God’s gracious work. Maybe this is what Owen means when he writes of “the natural popery in man.” I may not wear rough garments or take vows and orders as an attempt to mortify sin, but I may still look to myself and my remedies rather than to God and His remedies. Just as Catholicism has invented ways of mortifying sin, I may also invent ways and means and find them just as powerless to bring about true and lasting change.

I may use and insist upon means that were never appointed by God for this purpose; I may ignore the means that God has, in His grace and wisdom, appointed for this purpose; and, like Luther, I may always mortify, but never come to any sound mortification. “They have sundry means to mortify the natural man, as to the natural life here we lead; none to mortify lust or corruption.” This is the mistake of men ignorant of the gospel, and too often it is the mistake I make. As Owen says, “Duties are excellent food for an unhealthy soul; they are no [remedy] for a sick soul. He that turns his meat into his medicine must expect no great operation.” There is a lot to think about in those words. Do I turn meat into medicine; food into a cure? Do I misuse the wonderful means of grace God has given, thinking that they can mortify my sin when really they are meant to feed me, but not to cure me? Am I trying to “sweat out a distemper with working?”

I am looking forward to continuing with the book next week, but even more so, am looking forward to moving on to the second part where, I suspect, the rubber really begins to meet the road.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the fourth chapter of the book (which will mark the end of the book’s first part). We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been great and have aided my enjoyment of the chapter. I trust this week will prove the same.