Repentance or Regret: John Owen on Sin

In this wonderful edition of John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Owen describes a distinction with which we are all, no doubt, far too familiar.  This is the distinction between repentance and regret.  When we sin, to say we are “sorry” (or at least feel sorry) does not necessarily mean that we have actually repented of this sin.  After all, one can be “sorry” simply because they dislike the hot-water he is now in on account of his sin.  One can even feel regret without repentance, simply because they don’t like the guilt they feel when they sin.  (I.e., The God-ward focus can be lacking.)

Failure to deal with the root by only looking at the fruit will do us no favors while striving against indwelling sin.  This is the equivalent of treating the symptoms and not the disease.  What is more, such an approach is still too man-centered.

Owen writes:

The true and acceptable principles of mortification shall be afterward insisted on.  Hatred of sin as sin, not only as galling or disquieting, a sense of the love of Christ in the cross, lies at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification.  Now, it is certain that that which I speak of proceeds from self-love.  You set yourself with all diligence and earnestness to mortify such a lust or sin; what is the reason of it?  It disquiets you, it has taken away your peace, it fills your heart with sorrow and trouble and fear; you have no rest because of it.  Yea, but friend, you have neglected prayer or reading; you have been vain and loose in your conversation in other things, that have not been of the same nature with that lust wherewith you are perplexed.  These are no less sins and evils than those under which you groan.  Jesus Christ bled for them also.  Why do you not set yourself against them also?  If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul.  It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it.  Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it alone.  Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you.

Overcoming Sin and Temptation, pg. 87. (Emphasis added.)

Oh Triune God, would that you might truly increase our love for Christ and kindle our hatred for the things that displease you for we know that apart from the vivifying work of your Holy Spirit – in the killing off the old man and bringing to life of the new man – we are bound for the hypocrisy and falsehood and selfishness of those who simply avoid sin because it bothers us, not because it truly angers you.

This is a wonderful collection of three excellent treatises by John Owen!  Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic are to be commended on their editorial work!  I’ll look forward to posting a bit more about this book in coming weeks!

Andrew Compton
Lakewood, CA

4 thoughts on “Repentance or Regret: John Owen on Sin”

  1. Often I’ll ask a Christian what are you looking forward to most when we receive our glorified bodies.
    For me it’s knowing that I’ll never sin against God again.


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