As a Christian, John Owen argued, you have a responsibility to be on alert against the noetic affects of indwelling sin. Regeneration does not remove the corruption of depravity on our faculties. And, Owen warns, if we are not careful, the corruption of our minds is but the stepstool ruining the whole soul.
It is one of the principal duties incumbent on us, to be acquainted with, and diligently to watch over, the remainders of this vanity in our own minds. The sinful distempers of our natures are not presently cured at once, but the healing and removing of them is carried on by degrees unto the consummation of the course of our obedience in this world. And there are three effects of this natural vanity of the mind in its depraved condition to be found among believers themselves: —
- An instability in holy duties, as meditation, prayer, and hearing of the word. How ready is the mind to wander in them, and to give entertainment unto vain and fond imaginations, at least unto thoughts and apprehensions of things unsuited to the duties wherein we are engaged! How difficult is it to keep it up unto an even, fixed, stable frame of acting spiritually in spiritual things! How is it ready at every breath to unbend and let down its intension! All we experience or complain of in this kind is from the uncured relics of this vanity.
- This is that which inclines and leads men towards a conformity with and unto a vain world, in its customs, habits, and ordinary converse; which are all vain and foolish. And so prevalent is it herein, and such arguments hath it possessed itself withal to give it countenance, that in many instances of vanity it is hard to give a distinction between them and the whole world that lies under the power of it. Professors, it may be, will not comply with the world in the things before mentioned, that have no other use nor end but merely to support, act, and nourish vanity; but from other things, which, being indifferent in themselves, are yet filled with vanity in their use, how ready are many for a compliance with the course of the world, which lieth in evil and passeth away!
- It acts itself in fond and foolish imaginations, whereby it secretly makes provision for the flesh and the lusts thereof; for they all generally lead unto self-exaltation and satisfaction. And these, if not carefully checked, will proceed to such an excess as greatly to taint the whole soul. –Pneumatologia §3.3, in Works of John Owen 3:254.
These are good words from Owen. Notice his insight on this matter. It is not just that the operations of the mind tend devastatingly toward vanity, but Owen keenly perceives that this is evidenced in the very exercise of religion. In other words, the reason you space out during times of worship, when your mind should be most taken with God as He has revealed himself, is because the noetic affects of sin still operate in your mind. How well do I know this struggle! What vain and empty thoughts flood my mind during times of prayer! May God by his grace keep us vigilantly on guard against the vain exercises of the mind.