Reading John Owen: How Sin Draws Away the Mind

How Sin Draws Away the Mind

I have recently started a blog post series on John Owen’s book, “Indwelling Sin in Believers”, part of which looks at how sin works in the Christian. This is the second in the series. For an introduction, click here. We are currently tackling the part of the book where Owen examines James 1:14-15 and notes that the deception of sin works in the believer in 5 steps:
“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then, when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.”


Have you ever wondered how you got from a place of worshipping God, enjoying his goodness and feeling at peace, to feeling discontent with your life and yelling at your husband and kids on the same day? I sure have. I know that I love God and my innermost being wants to serve him, so WHAT HAPPENS between my resolve to follow him at the start of the day, and my utter failure by the end?

Enter Owen, step 1: sin draws away my mind. In short, I stop engaging my mind in the things I should be. But what exactly are those things? What should my mind be focusing on from which it is then drawn away? Two things, apparently, both of which Owen describes as “duties”:
    • The duty of keeping oneself ready for obedience and watchful for temptation through an appropriate, constant consideration of:
        • Ourselves – of our sin and its despicability.
        • God – of his grace and goodness.
    • Attending to special duties that weaken the power of sin in general.
        • Prayer (particularly private prayer)
        • Meditation on God’s Word and its application to our hearts


I hasten to add here that Owen is not advocating legalism – that human practice of following a bunch of rules in order to gain favour with God (favour that we already have in Jesus). We are not to attend to our duties:
    • in order to obtain salvation
    • to make ourselves feel righteous
    • to gain brownie points from God

We are to attend to these duties to guard against sin. I think guarding against sin has gone mostly out of fashion in many churches today, but here’s what the Bible says about it:

 “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from iniquity, that is understanding.” (Job 28:28)”

“Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter [thing], that you have forsaken the Lord your God.” (Jer 2:19).

Did you catch that the fear of the Lord = departing from iniquity (sin)? They are both said to be what wisdom means. And God calls “evil” whatever is forsaking (rebelling against) him. So, putting it all together, if we claim to love God (which is what the fear of the Lord is), then we must make every effort to depart from sin (which is anything that forsakes Him).

God actually puts this desire in our hearts at salvation – the desire to obey Him and avoid evil. It is what is referred to as “the law of grace” in the Bible. But there is an opposing indwelling force, the law of sin, whose work it is to pull us away from doing the good we wish to do. And so it firstly tries to draw the mind away from the duties it ought to engage in, which is what the rest of this post is about.


In my previous post on this subject, I discussed why it is necessary for Christians to think about our sin as well as the grace we have received that covers it. The design of it is to lead us to humility before God and others. Humility then leads us to a readiness to be obedient to God and watchful for temptation, calling on him for help.

This is the reason why the law of sin tries to draw us away from considering sin. And Owen asserts that it does it in the following ways:
    • In times of temptation, it will argue that there is no need to keep a diligent watch against sin, because there is free forgiveness. You know what I mean – that voice inside you that says, “Don’t think about it, just do it. You can ask for forgiveness later.” This is the very thing Paul says we must not do in Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.”
    • It will try to prevent the feeling of conviction translating to an understanding of the seriousness of sin. I think we have all experienced this too. We tell a lie and immediately feel convicted that it was wrong. But then we start to think of all the reasons why it wasn’t such a bad thing to do. And that prevents our minds being convinced of what our feelings told us in the first place. The feeling of conviction fades, and because we did not come to understand WHY we had that feeling, we do not guard against telling lies in the future. Pretty clever, huh?


When our hearts and minds are gripped with a sense of the goodness and kindness of God, thankfulness for all he has done for us and hope for the future he has prepared for us, this does not bode well for sin. Therefore it tries to draw the believer away from these considerations. And there is one strategy – distract the mind with the things of the world. This is why there is the contrary command in Scripture to: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col 3:2). The things of the world and God are opposed to each other; therefore one cannot hold both in regard at the same time.

Sin is sneaky in the way that it does this, because it is not just the obvious distractions it uses like the luxuries and pleasures of the world. It also presses on the mind the legitimate necessities of life – like a job, house, clothing and food. It causes us to think about them TOO MUCH so that God gets pushed from our minds. This is why Jesus commands us:

 “Therefore do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat’ or ‘What shall we drink’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:31-33).

It is not that we must not think of the necessities of life at all, it is that we must not think of them EXCESSIVELY or with ANXIETY, which is what sin would try to have us do in order to push God out of our minds altogether.


There is more to say on the drawing away of the mind, but this post has already gone on long enough. I hope you stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – have you experienced the way sin “draws away” your mind? Have you thought about it before? Do you often consider both the vileness of our sin and the goodness of our God?

How Sin Draws Away the Mind


  1. Oh so distracted by the things of the world............ a good book, a movie or TV show, gardening, a shopping list, what to cook for dinner, housework (I know!!) And even, ummmm, blogging.......... Such "innocent" distractions (and virtuous too, quite often). These are the things that keep me from prayer and meditation!

  2. Me too Sue! I also think it's a slippery slope once you're on it - the more our minds are drawn away, the harder it is to bring them back! May God help us, he is our only hope 🙂


Please tick the "notify me" box if you'd like to receive an email when I reply to your comment.