The Enemy Within
I’ve been told that John Owen, the Puritan pastor, is one of the most insightful Christian authors to have put pen to paper. Unfortunately, he is also one of the most difficult to understand. Reading his books is like running through mud. Here is a single sentence which appears in Owen’s book, The Mortification of Sin:
I hope I may own in sincerity, that my heart’s desire unto God, and the chief design of my life in the station wherein the good providence of God hath placed me, are that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own and in the hearts and ways of others, to the glory of God; that so the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things: for the compassing of which end, if this little discourse…may in any thing be useful to the least of the saints, it will be looked on as a return of the weak prayers wherewith it is attended by its unworthy author.
Thank God Kris Lundgaard has taken Owen’s thoughts and distilled them into an eminently readable book, The Enemy Within. The book deals with the question: “If God has redeemed me from sin, and given me his Holy Spirit to sanctify me and give me strength against sin, why do I go on sinning?” This is a crucial question, one that plagues every serious Christian at some point in their lives.
The reason we continue to sin, says Lundgaard via Owen, is because our flesh–our sinful nature–continues to live in us (Romans 7). He writes in chapter 4,
The flesh is more than God’s enemy: it is the enmity, the hostility, the pure hatred [of God] itself.
The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:7, NKJV)
Two enemies, no matter how deep the river of their bitterness runs, can make peace–but only if the hostility between them is destroyed. It is impossible to make peace with hostility itself.
The solution is, as John Owen wrote, is the mortification of sin. Our flesh, the sinful nature, must die. The sin inside each one of us will never accept a cease-fire peace treaty with God because sin is not the enemy, it is the hostility. In order for the believer to be free from the power of sin, it must die.
The good news is that our sinful natures were crucified with Christ.
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)
The crucifixion of our sinful natures is what God is working out, what he is actualizing in our lives through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The mortification of sin in us is the process of sanctification. The sinful nature dies every day, and every day the image of Christ lives more and more in and through us. Through this process, we, who were once enemies of God, become his friends as the hostility between us (our sinful natures) is destroyed.
I’ve not read John Owen, and probably never will. But Kris Lundgaard seems to have done an excellent job writing a book that distills Owen’s meticulous thoughts on sin and sanctification into a readable form.