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Reading John Owen (Part 3): The Deceitfulness of Sin

Since I have found reading John Owen so helpful to my own spiritual life, I'm planning to continue this series of posts explaining why, providing some excerpts from his writings. The last Owen book I finished was the Puritan Paperback modernization and abridgment of Indwelling Sin in Believers. Owen talks about the numerous ways that the sin remaining in the hearts of Christians works against them.

Sin is an aversion to God that both oppresses and deceives.

Owen uses James 1:13-15 to outline the steps sin uses in deceiving us.

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Owen notes five steps in temptation:

1. Drawing away, in which the mind is drawn away by the deceitfulness of sin.
2. Enticement, in which the affections are enticed or entangled.
3. Conception, in which the will consents, and so conceives actual sin.
4. Bringing forth, in which sin is brought forth in the life of the person.
5. Death, in which the soul is hardened in sinning. This culminates in death, or eternal ruin.

Owen primarily focuses on the first three steps, since he is speaking mostly to believers, "in whom God generally prevents the fourth step, and always prevents the final step." (p. 62)

So, the first step sin uses to deceive is to "draw away the mind from attending to a course of obedience and holiness."

"The mind," writes Owen, "is the faculty which ought to guide and counsel the soul . . . It is the eye of the soul, without which the will and affections would perpetually wander in the wilderness of this world, drawn to every object which seemed to offer some present good. The first thing, therefore, that sin aims at is to draw off and divert the mind from the discharge of its duty." (p. 62-63)

To paraphrase Owen, the mind is the sentinel of the soul, the watchman, charged with guarding the springs of the heart (see Prov. 4:23).

In the next post on reading Owen, we'll look at the strategies sin uses to deceive us.

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