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Reading John Owen (Part 4): How Sin Deceives

My last post on Owen introduced his writing on the deceitfulness of sin. Owen uses James 1:13-15 to discuss the steps by which sin deceives us. The first step is to "draw away the mind from attending to a course of obedience and holiness." So, how does sin do this? Owen gives two broad answers, and breaks down the first answer into further steps. [All the following quotes are from chapter 8 in Owen's Indwelling Sin in Believers.]

"1. [Sin] endeavours to draw the mind away from a due appreciation of its own vileness and the danger that faces it."

"2. Sin also seeks to draw away the mind from a constant, holy consideration of God and his grace."

To paraphrase, sin deceives us by minimizing the sinfulness of sin and the greatness of God. Sin deceives us by drawing our minds away from both the truth about how wicked, vile, subtle, and dangerous sin is on one hand; and from how great, satisfying, ravishing, and liberating God's grace is on the other hand. Sin deceives us by causing us to overlook or excuse our own sins and by causing us to forget or neglect who God is and what he has done for us.

And note, the "sin" under consideration, which Owen speaks of, following Paul (see Romans 6), as an active force or power, is our own indwelling sin. It is what Paul calls "the flesh." Which means we're responsible for it.

How then does sin draw our minds away from seeing the ugliness and danger of sin? It does so, says Owen, by "a horrible abuse of gospel grace."

"The deceit of sin . . . separates the doctrine of grace from the intended outcome of it. From the assured pardon of sin, it concludes that there is no need to take heed of sin." Scripture, of course, warns of this repeatedly. See, for example, Romans 6:1-2, Titus 2:11-12, and Jude 4.

Then Owen gives three ways in which this happens.

(1) "The soul often needs relief from the gospel against a sense of the guilt of sin and the accusation of the law, so that it gradually comes to take this relief for granted. Having found a good medicine for its wounds, and having experienced the power of its efficacy, it applies [the gospel] less thoroughly."

(2) "The deceitfulness of sin abuses the doctrine of grace to extend the bounds of liberty beyond what God allows....Sin's plea is, 'The gospel provides relief from this over-strictness. Otherwise there would be no need for the gospel and nothing to pardon.'"

(3) "When temptations arise, sin will plead that there is no need for tenacious, severe contending against them. It will argue that sin will not ruin or destroy the soul because it either is or may be pardoned by the grace of the gospel....But when forgiveness of sin is pleaded as a reason to comply with temptation, it becomes a poison."

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