Thursday, June 4, 2015

Book Review: The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin

I choose books to read for a lot of different reasons.  I read history books because the topic is interesting or even at times obscure.  I read biographies because the person in question is often fascinating on some level.  I read some books because I like the author, or I need to learn more about the topic the book discusses.  But rarely do I intentionally pick up a book in order to be completely convicted of my sin.  That has happened more than once, but sadly it is not because of an intentional choice of my own.

The Enemy Within:  Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin by Kris Lundgaard is a book that falls into the last category.  It is a book recommended to me by a good friend.  It is a relatively short book, about 150 pages.  And it is a book in which the author probably says nothing I had not heard before.  But he says it is such a way, with such truth and directness, that God’s Spirit used it to speak to my heart.

The Enemy Within is a book about sin.  Depressing right?  But as Kris Lundgaard notes, this is a necessary topic.  Getting to know our sin is wisdom.  The more each of us discover about the power of indwelling sin, the less we will suffer its effects.

The apostle Paul knew the power of indwelling sin.  This is how he described it in Romans 7:21:  “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (ESV)  Sin is a law living inside of us, a law that fights us even in our best moments, a law that never rests or gives up.  It is a traitor working from the shadow of our hearts, a usurper to the throne and authority of God in our lives.  Indwelling sin, or the flesh as the Bible describes it, will fight us each and every day we live on this earth – we cannot make peace with it, we can only defeat it.

As the prophet Jeremiah clearly notes, our hearts are deceitful and wicked, beyond cure and understanding. (Jer. 17:9)  We could never design a house as complex as our hearts or gather enough monsters to fill it.  Our heart as the Bible understands it, is made up of our mind, our will, our affections and our conscience.  Each of those aspects of our heart, the Bible says, is unsearchable and deceitful above all things.  (As a side note, consider the implications of a verse like this for the case of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner.)  Deceit is what the flesh uses to confuse our minds, entangle our affections and persuade our wills that sin is either good for us or at least, not as bad as God says it is.  The flesh works to weaken the spiritual conviction we feel when we sin, reminding us to cling to the remedy of grace - God’s forgiveness of sin - but conveniently persuading us to forget the design of grace – to make us holy.  It has the ability to use spiritual things for its purposes, as long as those spiritual things do not lead us closer to God.

All this is rather depressing.  The picture the author gives is a true one – our flesh is a powerful, ruthless, unrelenting enemy that will fight against anything that leads to true communion with God.  Thankfully, Lundgaard does much more than merely give a troubling description of the flesh.  He also offers hope.  He makes it clear that while the flesh will never be completely defeated in this life, God has given us all the tools we need to fight the flesh, to weaken its power and to live a life that glorifies Him.

God has given us His Spirit.  While it is true that our hearts are deceitful, wicked and unknowable, it is also true that God has given every believer His Spirit who lives in us.  And the Spirit, thankfully, knows our hearts even as we do not.  The way to fight the flesh is through the Spirit.  The Spirit helps us meditate on God and His gracious, good character.  The Spirit enables us to meditate on God’s Word, His truth revealed.  The Spirit empowers us to expose our sinful hearts to God’s holy character and the truths of His word, which leads to conviction, repentance and change.

God has given us minds that are being transformed and renewed, minds that can be trained to love Him.  Guarding our mind is an essential part of obedience, which weakens the grip of the flesh.  Obedience is not just doing what God says, but doing what God says in God’s way.  The work of the mind of a believer is to know God’s rule and apply it to all we do before God.  As the apostle Paul notes in Ephesians 5:15 – “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” (ESV)

Finally, God has given us faith.  Faith is the only thing that truly destroys the power of the flesh because salvation comes from the Lord.  By faith, we are able to fill our souls with thoughts of the purpose of Christ’s death, on the meaning and implications of his shed blood and his work on the cross.  And by faith we can anticipate help in our struggles from Jesus – he does not leave us to struggle against the flesh alone.

The flesh is an implacable enemy.  Indwelling sin never gives up and never takes a vacation.  It fights against anything and everything that leads us to real communion with God.  But ultimately, for the Christian, the flesh does not have any real authority.  We belong to God in Christ.  He is transforming our hearts, writing His law there.  While the fight never ends in this life, God has given every believer the weapons he or she needs to be increasingly victorious in this life-long battle.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Book Review: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

One of the most polarizing issues in our society today is the whole issue of homosexuality, especially when it relates to homosexual marriage.  While very few people would insist on discriminating against someone with a homosexual orientation with regards to a job for example, there are many who struggle with the homosexual lobby’s attempts to redefine marriage away from the traditional (and biblical) definition of one man and one woman.

Into this hot button issue steps Pastor Kevin DeYoung with his new book What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?  With a blend of serious scholarship, clear thinking and a pastoral heart, DeYoung explains what the Bible does say about homosexuality and then counters many of the common arguments society offers against the biblical data.

DeYoung begins by saying that while the Bible says something about homosexuality, it is not a book about homosexuality.  Rather it is a book about God, His creation, sin and salvation.  It is a book about God seeking to dwell eternally with His creation, His holy people.  And so while the Bible is not a book about homosexuality, the issue of homosexuality touches on many of the important truths the Bible upholds.  The question then must be asked:  “Is homosexuality a sin that must be repented of, forsaken and forgiven, or given the right context and commitment, can we consider same-sex sexual intimacy a blessing worth celebrating and solemnizing?” (p. 15)

DeYoung begins to answer this question by first unpacking the handful of Scripture passages dealing directly with homosexuality.  He begins in Genesis 1-2, which sets out God’s clear design for marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  He argues that heterosexual relations are the only relations that fit the biblical description of a “one-flesh union.”  DeYoung moves onto to Genesis 19 and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It has become fashionable to argue from Ezek. 16:49 that the sin of these cities was a lack of hospitality.  But when one views Ezek. 16:49 in context (Ezek. 16:47-50), it becomes clear that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is abomination, the same word used in Lev. 18 and 20 for homosexual behavior.  Moving on to the Law of Moses, DeYoung investigates Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, arguing that these verses forbid homosexual behavior because it is an affront to God’s holy order.  He then lists 6 reasons why these verses cannot be just set aside as an ancient law for another time.  In his chapter on Romans 1, the author makes a clear case that God sees homosexual practice as an example of mankind’s rebellion against God and a willing, sinful suppression of the truth of God’s good design.  Finally, DeYoung investigates 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 1:8-11, two passages based on the Leviticus law in which the apostle Paul condemns men who have sex with other men.  According to DeYoung, the argument of Scripture is clear – homosexual activity of any type is a sin against the clear creation design of God.

Having unpacked what the Bible says, DeYoung moves on to counter 7 common arguments against the clear teaching of Scripture. They are:
·  The argument that Christians are making much too big a deal about this, since the Bible hardly mentions homosexuality. 
·   The argument that the kind of homosexuality practiced today in committed relationships is not what the Bible is condemning. 
·   The argument that the church is hypocritical, failing to deal with its own sins.
·   The argument that the church should be a place for broken people, and labeling homosexuality a sin closes the door for such people. 
·   The argument that in opposing homosexual advances, Christians are on the wrong side of history.
·   The argument that labelling homosexual behavior a sin is not fair.
·   The argument that says that God is a God of love who would never condemn someone practicing homosexuality.
In countering these arguments, DeYoung communicates truth, but does it in a sensitive, pastoral way.  Not everyone will agree with his conclusions or his counter-arguments, but despite that I believe DeYoung does a good job staking a position on the truth of the Bible.

The author concludes his book with three appendices worth reading.  The first explains what is at stake in the homosexual marriage debate.  The second provides 3 building blocks in dealing with the issue of same-sex attraction.  And the third lists 10 commitments every church should make in response to the issue of homosexuality.

As I mentioned, some people will disagree and hate this book.  They may even hate my review.  But in a time when the homosexual lobby has been incredibly successful in changing public perception and opinion regarding homosexual marriage and homosexuality in general, this is a book that every serious, thinking Christian should read.  Is it the ultimate resource on the issue?  Probably not, but it is a great one, a resource that will equip you to think seriously and biblically about one of the most contentious issues of our day.