Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Enemy Within: A Book Review


Kris Lundgaard bases The Enemy Within on two classic works by the Puritan theologian, John Owen, Indwelling Sin and The Mortification of Sin. Lundgaard mined these works desperately seeking help with his own sanctification and battle against sin. He found the help for which he was searching, but with much labor due to Owens style and tedious seventeenth century language. Out of gratitude and a desire to share his hard fought discoveries with contemporary believers, Lundgaard wrote The Enemy Within. A book highly recommended by Puritan expert and well regarded theologian, J.I. Packer. I wish I felt the same.


The author divides The Enemy Within into four sections. The first section defines the power of sin and the section that follows describes how that power works in the life of the Christian. In the third, which is a single chapter, Lundgaard explains what sin seeks to accomplish. Lundgaard closes the book by with a discussion of vital principles for overcoming sin.

Lundgaard begins the first section by describing the reality of indwelling sin. Rom. 7 is his primary scriptural support, and from this text, he defines sin as a law that operates from within the believer. Indwelling sin, or the flesh as Lundgaard sometimes calls it, seeks to keep the Christian from doing right and it never rests. Because the human heart is deceitful and indwelling sin is always lurking, believers must be continually on guard and ready to battle sin. Every time the believer seeks to commune with God, the flesh fights against their souls. However, Believers can experience victory because they have new hearts, the mind of Christ and the Holy Spirit to empower them.

In the second and longest section of the book, Lundgaard describes how indwelling sin operates in the believer. It attacks the mind, will and affections. Indwelling sin deceives the mind about the real consequences of sin, tempts the believer to get grace and holiness out of balance, and it seeks to entice them by entangling their affections and capturing their imaginations. Lundgaard says the mind is the key to obedience and winning the battle against sin. Therefore, the believer must be constantly saturating their minds with the Scriptures, be thinking hard about obedience and be resisting spiritual laziness. Lundgaard wraps up the second section by discussing the necessity of engaging the will and avoiding passivity in battling sin.

Chapter 10 or the third section, discusses the various ways the flesh seeks to erode the Christian’s love for Christ. In short, the believer must continually cultivate their love for the Lord and put to death the flesh.

In the last section of The Enemy Within, Lundgaard says the antidote for sin is a life of worship based on a healthy reverence and awe of God. This reverence or fear can only come by God’s revelation of Himself, whether by vision or Scripture. In addition, he warns about a false peace the believer’s flesh can provide. Therefore, they must guard against the flesh’s deceptions and seek the true peace only Christ can provide. In closing, Lundgaard points to faith in Christ’s finished work and absolute dependence on the Spirit as the primary means to overcome sin.

Critical Evaluation

The Enemy Within is a much-needed book because it addresses a topic the modern church rarely considers, sin in the life of the believer. It is well written and packed with excellent illustrations. In fact, the illustrations are probably the best part of the book. The “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” sections at the end of each chapter help make the book practical.

The book does have a glaring weakness, a weakness that undermines its important and much needed message. In this reviewer’s opinion, Lundgaard bases the book upon an incorrect interpretation of Scripture. The author bases his understanding of indwelling sin on Rom. 7. In the notes on page 151 the author states, “Romans 7 has been variously interpreted; but on close inspection it is clearly describing the experience of a believer, rather than an unbeliever.” Unfortunately, this reviewer disagrees and so do some of the most respected New Testament scholars of our day, such as Douglas Moo, Gordon Fee, Frank Thielman and Ben Worthington III to mention only a few.

A thorough examination of Rom. 7 and its surrounding context lies outside the primary purpose of this review, but I would lie to note a couple of important points. First, before Augustine, the vast majority of the early church Fathers recognized that the apostle Paul was using rhetorical devices in Rom. 7 to describe the experience of those who were attempting to gain a righteous standing before God by keeping law. Augustine himself, at one time understood Rom. 7 in this light. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Augustine changed his position and nearly all the Reformers adopted it. Augustine’s interpretation has had tremendous influence on the church ever since.

A second important point is that even a limited examination of Rom. 7 and 8, in a good, literal translation of the Bible, will demonstrate that the discussion in Romans is not about the struggle of two natures within a believer, but two ways of living. One can live according to the flesh or the Spirit. Life according to the flesh is described in Rom. 8:7-8, “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (NASB).” In these verses, Paul’s description of the “flesh” certainly seems to describe an unregenerate person. Rom. 7:5 and 8:9 indeed confirm conclusion. Rom. 7:5 says, For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death (NASB).” This verse describes our time in the “flesh” as past tense. Rom. 8:9 confirms this when it says,However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (NASB).” So according to Paul, to be in the “flesh” is to be without the Spirit and to be without the Spirit is to be unregenerate. Therefore, a believer cannot be in the flesh and the Spirit simultaneously. Of course, this is not to say a believer cannot act fleshly, or in other words, behave as if they are still in the flesh, see 1 Cor. 2:14-3:4.

Rom. 7 is not the only passage Lundgaard misinterprets or misuses. He makes the exact same mistake with Gal. 5 that he did with Rom. 7. Again, he takes the discussion about the flesh and Spirit to be mainly about the struggle of two natures within a believer. This reviewer acknowledges this is a popular interpretation but believes it is incorrect. Paul wrote Galatians to a community of believers who false teachers, probably Judaizers, were pressuring to go back under law for justification and sanctification. Like Rom. 7 and 8, the discussion about the flesh and Spirit in Gal. 5 has to do with two ways of living, not about the battle of two natures within an individual believer. For anyone interested, Dr. Ed Welch wrote an excellent article discussing how this interpretation might apply to biblical counseling in The Journal for Biblical Counseling, Spring 2002.

Rom. 7 and Gal. 5 were not the only passages the author misinterpreted and therefore misused, but they were by far the most obvious. Unfortunately, the misinterpretation and misuse of Scripture in The Enemy Within is all too common in contemporary Christian writing. Often what authors are attempting to say is theologically and experientially true, but the Scripture they use does not actually support their point. It seems that many authors depend heavily on the works of others, theological systems and popular interpretations as the basis for their works. They themselves fail to do the hard work of hermeneutics and exegesis. Sadly, this undermines their credibility, and makes it difficult for those who value good exegesis and hermeneutics to hear their message and take them seriously. In this reviewer’s opinion, that is definitely the case with The Enemy Within.


In spite of the recommendations of some well-respected Christian scholars and teachers, I would not recommend The Enemy Within. In my opinion, the book is fundamentally flawed because the author bases it on a popular misinterpretation of Scripture. I acknowledge many of my brethren would disagree.

I believe and know by experience that Christians continue to battle with sin after being born of the Spirit. If this were not true our New Testaments would be much shorter and our experience vastly different. Regrettably, well-meaning Christians often use the wrong Scriptures to teach about this reality and they misuse others. We must strive to avoid this error and instead heed the admonition of 2 Tim. 2:15, which says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (NASB).”