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.

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