John Owen was a Puritan minister who lived in the 1600s. In Overcoming Sin and Temptation, we are presented with a collection of three of his works–“Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,” “Of Temptation, the Nature and Power of It,” and “Indwelling Sin”–which are aimed at leading believers to an awareness of their own sin and the overcoming of it.
If I had to sum up this volume with one word, I would say: “Convicting.” John Owen throughout does a fantastic job calling believers to the awareness of their own sin and the various ways in which we deny our sin and try to pretend it isn’t there. There were many times I found myself nodding along, realizing that Owen had laid bare yet another way I had been trying to ignore sin in my own life. It is a powerful work of law.
Owen points out how we often rely upon grace in the face of temptation–surely we will be forgiven this sin!–rather than putting the temptation to death; he notes how we often try to ignore sin through various means like the weariness of our body (we’re too tired to avoid this sin); he exhaustively draws out the many ways we deceive ourselves through our sin and persist in sin. It’s almost tiring because we realize how often our sins have been covered up in our minds through rationalizing it away.
But Owen does not end with the conviction of our hearts for our sin. Instead, as the title of this book suggests, he puts forward ways in which we may overcome sin and temptation. Primarily, they involve watchfulness and prayer. We are called by Owen to an active assault on sin rather than passive resistance. We must always be looking out for the ways sin penetrates our lives and close those gaps. Some concrete things Owen suggests are focusing upon Christ’s work and how our sin adds to Christ’s suffering; thinking upon the grace and love of God and how we wound the great God who made us when we sin; considering God’s sovereignty and asking, with Joseph in Genesis, “How can I sin against my God?” These are only a few of the ways Owen suggests we put sin to death in our lives.
This edition of the works is made especially helpful by extensive notes explaining hard-to-understand words. Various explanatory words are sometimes added into the text (always bracketed so readers know they have been added) to continue Owen’s train of thought. Each work has a brief but information-packed introduction, and there are lengthy and detailed outlines of the works at the end of the book.
I do wish the editors had also decided to make the language throughout the text gender-inclusive. It is jarring to have to continually process: “Oh yeah, he’s using ‘men’ to reference ‘people.” It may seem like a small thing, but if this is so clearly what Owen means when he says “he” or “man” or “men,” etc., then why not just say it through the editorial process? This is a minor strike against an otherwise excellent work.
I recommend that every Christian obtain a volume of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, read it prayerfully, and integrate it into their lives. We must be killing sin lest it kill us.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.
John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway, 2006).
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