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Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Chapter 10)

Reading Classics Together Collection cover image

This morning we continue with our reading of 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.

In the past few chapters we have been in the book’s second section—a section that focuses on “the nature of mortification.” In the past chapters and those to come Owen 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.
  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. Last week he offered the first of his particular instructions on how to go about the business of mortifying sin. He told us to consider whether our lust has certain dangerous symptoms accompanying it and went on to describe certain conditions: Inveterateness (a state of being deep-rooted or habitual); secret pleas of the heart to countenance sin without a gospel attempt to mortify sin; applying grace and mercy to an unmortified sin; frequency of success in sin’s seduction; arguing against sin only because of impending punishment; probable judiciary hardness; when your lust has already withstood particular dealings from God against it. This week he turns to a second instruction.

Summary

This chapter’s theme is this: Get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of your sin. Owen follows this outline:

  1. Consider the guilt of it
    • Though the power of sin be weakened by inherent grace, yet the guilt of remaining sin is aggravated and heightened by it
    • God sees a great deal of evil in the working of lust in the hearts of his servants
  2. Consider the danger of it
    • Of being hardened by deceitfulness
    • Of some great temporal correction
    • Of loss of peace and strength
    • Of eternal destruction
  3. Consider its present evils
    • It grieves the holy and blessed Spirit
    • The Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it
    • It will take away a man’s usefulness in his generation

Discussion

I don’t know that any other chapter has given me more to think about than this one. It’s not just that it was tough going (and certain sections really were tough to read and absorb) but that Owen covered some aspects of thinking about sin that really were new to me. I’ll give a brief thought about each of the three headings he used: the guilt of sin, the danger of sin, and the evil of sin.

I doubt too many Christians can read Owen’s thoughts on considering the guilt of our sin and remain unaffected. Of course I wasn’t entirely sure that I read it correctly but after three or four go-rounds I am fairly confident. Owen says, “Though the power of sin be weakened by inherent grace, yet the guilt of remaining sin is aggravated and heightened by it.” He says also that “God sees a great deal of evil in the working of lust in the hearts of his servants.” I take this to mean that sin committed by a Christian is in a sense far more serious than sin committed by an unbeliever. Once God has given us light and life, we sin in a way that is different from how we sinned before. When we sin as Christians we sin in direct contradiction to the work of the Spirit in our lives. “We, doubtless, are more evil than any, if we do [sin]. I shall not insist on the special aggravations of the sins of such persons—how they sin against more love, mercy, grace, assistance, relief, means, and deliverances than others. But let this consideration abide in your mind—there is inconceivably more evil and guilt in the evil of your heart that does remain, than there would be in so much sin if you had no grace at all.” With the great blessing of new life comes the great responsibility to be free from sin. When we do sin, we blatantly disregard the Spirit’s work and leading in our life. Hence there is a whole new dimension to our sin and a whole new level of seriousness.

In his section on the dangers of sin, Owen warned of being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness, of the danger of temporal punishment, of the loss of peace and strength in relationship with God and of eternal destruction. The one that stood out to me was the danger of being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. I believe it is for good reason that he listed this one first. No person can find himself on the road to destruction or even being punished by God in this life if he has not first been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. “There is a treachery, a deceit in sin, that tends to the hardening of your hearts from the fear of God.” At the close of this section comes a dire warning and challenge: “Is it not enough to make any heart to tremble, to think of being brought into that estate wherein he should have slight thoughts of sin? Slight thoughts of grace, of mercy, of the blood of Christ, of the law, heaven, and hell, come all in at the same season. Take heed, this is that [which] your lust is working toward—the hardening of the heart, searing of the conscience, blinding of the mind, stupifying of the affections, and deceiving of the whole soul.” When we have low thoughts of our sin it means we must also have low thoughts of the work and person of Christ and low thoughts of eternal reward and punishment. If we get sin wrong, we get everything else wrong. Sin is deceitful and we must have a biblical understanding of it if we are to honor God with our lives. We must mortify sin lest we allow it to blind us to its realities.

Where the dangers of sin point to future realities, the evils of sin point to the present. Here Owen offers three warnings. Sin grieves the holy and blessed Spirit; the Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it; and sin will take away a man’s [or woman’s] usefulness in his [or her] generation. I think it speaks volumes about a person’s heart whether or not these realities really concern him. Only one who has truly been born again will be concerned with grieving the Holy Spirit or wounding Jesus Christ afresh. Only a Christian will have a heart that is grieved by grieving God. Any man may fear and abhor the consequences of sin in his own life, but only a true believer will concern himself with how his sins affect God. “Among those who walk with God, there is no greater motive and incentive unto universal holiness, and the preserving of their hearts and spirits in all purity and cleanness, than this, that the blessed Spirit, who has undertaken to dwell in them, is continually considering what they give entertainment in their hearts unto, and rejoices when his temple is kept undefiled.” Does this thought motivate me to mortify the sin in my life? Does this thought motivate you to destroy the sin in yours? Or are we so self-centered that our first consideration is how our sin impacts our own lives and our own hearts? Those who truly love the Lord will prove this love by turning from sin.

Next Week

Next Thursday we will continue by reading chapter eleven.

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.


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