Insights from John Owen’s Classic Book: “Indwelling Sin”

“Sin is like a river, if you swim with it, you won’t feel the pressure. If you swim against it, you will feel a strong opposition.”

Christian literature capture the grand displays of the gems of Christendom. The Puritan Era is one of the Golden Ages of the Christian mind. I have been fascinated with the classics since the moment I discovered them last 2012. I started to buy, print and read the classics eversince.

Now, I have been consuming John Owen’s Indwelling Sin. In his work, he examines the anatomy of the human nature and the indwelling sin that resides within us. He strips it naked so his readers can have a better understanding and knowledge of this enemy.

I want to uncover these treasures myself, and I like to see through Owen’s eyes the vision that he has been led through. I like to ride in his thoughts, and feel the rise and mountain top experiences of his journey with the Word.

The Joy of Miners

Any miner will delight the joys that his new-found treasures can give. He is ever grateful to the privileges that it has brought to him, he is eternally grateful of discovering them, and wishes they depart not from him. That’s what it should be for us Christians: it would be our cry day and night to consume the power and wealth that the treasures of the truths can give.

It is also my delight to labor, to dig deeper, to feed myself, to hoist the shimmering precious truths and lift them up to the surface. As long as grace would allow me, and the Lord upholds me, it is my joy to share my discoveries.

The following words are insights and quotes that I found preciously useful from the work of John Owen.

The foundational text of John Owen’s obra maestra is anchored in Romans 7:21: ” I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.”

Notice that Indwelling Sin is a remnant in the hearts of the people after their conversion to God. It is not totally obliterated, it has its remainders after the born-again experience.

Sin is a Law

The apostle Paul calls this remnant sin as a law. The sin that dwells in believers is called Indwelling Sin, taken from verse 18. This law has power, authority, efficacy and effects just like how any other law works as well.

A law works in two ways:
(1) Directive Law- this law works externally. It is a rule outside that directs its recipients to follow. It is not intrinsic in the being of its subordinates. It could either be written or spoken.
(2) Operative Law- this second type means that a law is a Force. It is a moral rule or law that directs and commands. It forbids certain things, and give passion to other things. It has rewards and penalties if it is violated. One example of this type of law is the law of gravity, a law intrinsic to earth. Gravity is a nature to the earth.

Operative Principle refers to the law of sin as a “law of its nature.” Sin a nature of humans, and it is an internal force. It is not a mere outside rule or code, but rather a powerful urge inside the soul.

On the other hand, inside every believer, there is a force called “the law of the Spirit of life.” (Romans 8:2) This law/ force operates within that leads believers to seek, thirst, believe, hunger and be passionate about the things of the Spirit. Thus, Paul calls indwelling sin as a law.

Evil is present in believers

The intent of the Apostle in calling sin a law is to point out that it is still a powerful and effective force that dwells within man, although only the remainder dwelt within. It inclines men to actions that suit its nature as sinful. Believers still possess indwelling sin which presses them to commit sin. We can observe from this verse that there is an exceeding power in the remnant of indwelling sin in believers, with a constant working towards evil.

Though it is a law in believers, but not to believers. Although it is within, they are not the sole domineering authority. The difference is that believers have this law broken and impaired, yet still has a great power and efficacy. It if it is least felt, it is most powerful. Like a river, if you swim with it, you won’t feel the pressure. If you swim against it, you will feel a strong opposition.

The unregenerate, in contrast to the believers, have nothing but this law. The only law that rules in them is the law of sin. They do nothing but from it and by it.

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