The Duty of the Mind

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Christian duty and obedience, and how to think of this in terms of killing my indwelling sin. So in my reading, I came across this section in John Owen’s work on indwelling sin this morning that I found particularly helpful:

There are two things which belong unto the duty of the mind in that special office which it has in and about the obedience which God requires:

(1) To keep itself and the whole soul in such a frame and posture as may renderit ready unto all duties of obedience, and watchful against all enticements unto the conception of sin;

(2) In particular, carefully to attend unto all particular actions, that they be performed as God requires, for matter, manner,time and season, agreeably unto his will; as also for the obviating [of] all particular tenders of sin in things forbidden.

In these two things consists the whole duty of the mind of a believer; and from both of them does indwelling sin endeavor to divert it and draw it off.

Of course, Owen’s language is a tad stilted at times (obviation means “render unnecessary”), but his point is helpful. The whole duty of the mind is discipline and defense, readiness and action in obeying God.

Personally, I find the whole issue of keeping my mind set on the things of God rather hard, so to even think in terms of a constant readiness of my mind to evaluate things in terms of God is difficult to imagine. But on the other hand, I’ve trained my mind pretty well to be satisfied with me and my desires and “commands” from birth. I’m render obedience pretty easily to Jacob’s Universe and Law – I kinda like what he’s got going and what he has in mind.

The hope to change into practicing what Owen lays out here is within us, it’s in the Spirit’s power through the Bible. God tells us:

Do not be conformed to this world (i.e. Jacob’s Universe and Law), but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

It is through the power of God’s word that we are transformed to have a mind ready to action, constantly defending the soul from temptations assaults and allurements. We look at God’s mind, his ways, his wisdom, and see our own foolishness. But in this vision, we see a God who is eager to give wisdom and change our minds to love his law. He gives wisdom to those who bank on who God tells us he is (gracious, kind, good, loving, etc.) and ask him on the basis of that reality for more grace, more wisdom, more love. It’s a continual, every progressing, day after day, frustration after frustration, break-through after break-through type of transformation.

The picture of changing into the type of person that Owen holds out – the type who’s eager with his mind to discern the ways of the Lord so that his soul may enjoy God – is done through continually looking at the work and person of Jesus Christ. That’s the whole purpose of the Scriptures. Again, God tells us:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 3:18)

May God make it so in me, in you. May God send his Spirit upon my mind to make me a man who loves the duty of loving God’s law, loves obedience so much to defend my soul with my mind as God made me to do.


If you’re interested in reading more of Owen, you can get this work in a great edition from Crossway, edited Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, entitled Overcoming Sin and Temptation. You can see a preview of this volume and the page this was taken from at google books here. If you’re a purist, you can read the original from Owen in Volume 6 of his Works without edits. Happy reading!

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