A Conversation with John Owen

Me: John, what should be our motivation when we seek to oppose sin?

John: “When a man rights (amends) against his sin only with arguments from the issue or the punishment due unto it, this is a sign that sin has taken great possession of the will, and that in the heart there is a superfluity of naughtiness (James 1:21)” (pg 93)

Me: So you’re saying that our only motivation for holiness should not be the consequences of our sin?

John: “Such a man opposes nothing to the seduction of sin and lust in his heart but fear of shame among men or hell from God, is sufficiently resolved to do the sin if there were no punishment attending it; which what it differs from living in the practice of sin, I know not.” (pg 93)

Me: Any examples from Scripture to help us think about these things?

John: “So did Joseph. How shall I do this great evil, says he, and sin against the LORD, my good and gracious God? (Gen. 39:9) And Paul, The love of Christ constrains us (2 Cor. 5:14), and Having received these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1).” (pg 93)

Me: Amen brother! So how do we handle the tension between being converted and renewed and yet still battling with sin in our lives?

John: “These are the evils that believers may fall into and be ensnared with, not the things that constitute a believer. A man may as well conclude that he is a believer because he is an adulterer, because David that was so fell into adultery, as conclude it from the signs foregoing, which are the evils of sin and Satan in the hears of believers.” (pg 96)

Me: So, you would say in Romans 7, we are dealing with a regenerate Paul?

John: “The seventh chapter of the book of Romans contains the description of a regenerate man. He that shall consider what is spoken of his dark side, of his unregenerate part, of the indwelling power and violence of sin remaining in him, and, because he finds the like in himself, conclude that he is a regenerate man, will be deceived in his reckoning.” (pg 96)

Me: In other words, we should not be comforted that we sin too, just like everyone else?

John: It is all one as if you should argue: A wise man may be sick and wounded, yea, do some things foolishly; therefore, everyone who is sick, and wounded and does things foolishly is a wise man…If you have evidences of your being believers, it must be from those things that constitute men believers.” (pg 96)

Me: So, it seems like you’re saying that to truly mortify sin, one must first be a believer and secondly this action must take place by the Spirit?

John: “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.” (pg 79)

(All quotes taken from Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic.)

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