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Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Chapter 9)

This morning we continue with our fourteen week journey through John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you’d like to know more about this reading project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together. We’re into the real heart of the book now and are looking at specific instructions on how to put sin to death.

By way of reminder, for the past few chapters we have been in the book’s second section—a section that turns the focus from introductory materials to “the nature of mortification.” In this portion of the book Owen is turning to this question: “Suppose a man to be a true believer, and yet finds in himself a powerful indwelling sin, leading him captive to the law of it, consuming his heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his soul as to duties of communion with God, disquieting him as to peace, and perhaps defiling his conscience, and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin, what shall he do? What course shall he take and insist on for the mortification of this sin, lust, distemper, or corruption, to such a degree as that, though it be not utterly destroyed, yet, in his contest with it, he may be enabled to keep up power, strength, and peace in communion with God?”

In the past chapters and those to come he approaches the subject this way:

  1. Show what it is to mortify any sin, and that both negatively and positively, that we be not mistaken in the foundation (the fifth chapter provided the negative and this week we look at the positive aspect).
  2. Give general directions for such things as without which it will be utterly impossible for anyone to get any sin truly and spiritually mortified.
  3. Draw out the particulars whereby this is to be done.

He has already shown both negatively and positively what it is to mortify a sin and has given the general directions. This week he is turning to particular instructions on how to go about mortifying sin.

Summary

As I mentioned, Owen is now providing specific instructions on how to mortify sin. He will do this under nine headings and in this chapter he gives the first of these: Consider whether your lust has these dangerous symptoms accompanying it. The outline looks like this:

  1. Inveterateness (a state of being deep-rooted or habitual)
  2. Secret pleas of the heart to countenance sin without a gospel attempt to mortify sin
  3. Applying grace and mercy to an unmortified sin
  4. Frequency of success in sin’s seduction
  5. Arguing against sin only because of impending punishment
  6. Probable judiciary hardness
  7. When your lust has already withstood particular dealings from God against it

Discussion

Because it has been a ridiculously busy week, I did not have the time I would have liked to be able to really ponder this chapter and to meditate upon it. I’ll have to be sure to return to it. But there were still at least two things that really stood out to me. Once more I am thankful that Owen was such a student of the human condition. He understood sin and its impact on us in such a deep way. And because of this knowledge he was able to bring the gospel to bear on it. We see that in evidence in this chapter in a powerful way.

To mortify sin for this end, to satisfy conscience, which cries and calls for another purpose, is a desperate device of a heart in love with sin.” When the Spirit brings a sin to our minds it may be a temptation for us to refuse to put it to death. Instead of cooperating with the Spirit in mortifying that sin, we may hold onto it and satisfy ourselves with other evidences of God’s grace within us. We may see this sin and know that it is sin, but rather than fight against it, we simply content ourselves that we are Christians and then allow ourselves to be pleased with the other evidences of our conversion. This, says Owen, is a dangerous condition and one which is hardly curable. When God puts a yoke on our necks, we must be willing to do the hard work required to obey Him. We simply cannot ignore Him as He brings sin to mind. We cannot be so insincere and so hypocritical as to turn the grace of God into license.

In the next point, where he discusses applying Grace to an unmortified sin, Owen mentions a kind of sin I think we all have in our lives. They are secret sins and sins we hold on to because we really do like them. We have grown comfortable with their presence in our lives even though we freely admit they are sinful. Perhaps they involve foul language or bad temper; perhaps they involve copying DVDs or music; we laugh at these small and even respectable sins. We would rather go through life refusing to put these to death and allowing them free reign in our lives than allowing God to deal with them. When we do this, we apply God’s mercy to these sins, knowing that Jesus died to forgive even these. And yet we are unrepentant for them and are unwilling to let go of them. But, says Owen, “to apply mercy to a sin not vigorously mortified is to fulfill the end of the flesh upon the gospel.” We make a mockery of mercy and of God’s grace when we allow sin, and even the smallest sin, to run rampant.

As the book continues I look forward more and more to the chapters to come!

Next Week

Next Thursday we will continue by reading chapter ten.

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your 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 something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.