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The Enemy Within
I’m Rod Shackelford, husband, father of five, elder here at FBC, leader of Men of the Word, and co-owner of a medical device business.
This message was inspired by Kris Lundgaard’s book, The Enemy Within, which was inspired by John Owen’s, The Mortification of Sin. This book was studied by the Men of the Word and Women of the Word groups, and assorted other ministry groups, and answers the question I often ask myself–why do I sin?
I love Jesus, His Church, His Word–but I sin. In fact my sin so discourages me, at times I feel I have no hope to overcome it. Will I ever overcome this enemy within that seems to catch me unaware, unprepared, defenseless, and weak? I begin each day feasting on His Word, fellowshipping with Him in prayer–finishing an “amen” with joy and peace, and an intimacy in my relationship with my Savior and Lord. And then I slug it out with my flesh throughout the day. I know I’m not alone in this battle–it is the lament of every true believer.
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word. Romans 7:14 to 24, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
As we pore over this text, the question that has been the topic of much debate by theologians is, is this speaking of Paul’s pre-converted state, or is he in his converted state? Is this the lament of a mature believer or unbeliever?
The Lament of the Mature Believer or Unbeliever
The believer’s position is clearly stated in Romans 6. We are no longer slaves to sin in Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
We have been freed from sin, Romans 6:7, 8, and 22, “For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.” Clearly, Paul describes the believer as no longer enslaved to our sin nature, and we have been set free from its bondage.
Then in chapter 7, the . . .
Terms of an Unbeliever
7:14 “of flesh sold into bondage”
7:18 “nothing good dwelling in him”
7:24 “wretched man that I am–who will set me free from the body of this death?”
Terms of a Believer
7:15, 19, 21 Paul wants to obey God, and hates doing evil
7:18 Paul is humble–nothing good dwells in his humanness; sin is described as part of him, and not all
7:25 Paul says, “I myself with my mind am serving the law of God”
This is the lament of Paul, as a mature believer–and the lament of every mature believer. He is simply bringing to light an inner conflict with sin that remains in the believer. For when a mature believer measures himself against God’s holy standard, they see clearly how far they fall short.
So Romans 6 has declared to us that all true believers are liberated from the total corruption of our natures that rendered us unable to do anything but sin. We are now free from sin to love, serve and obey God. But Romans 7 will tell us we’re not yet totally free from sin’s reach. We’re still prone to sin’s seductive power. We’re unable to break free of sin’s presence. We’re still vulnerable to sin’s enchantment. And this will be the case until Romans 8, which speaks of our future glorification.
Paul was very in tune with his heart. This is very typical of our earthly example, Paul, in how he saw himself in light of the knowledge of His Savior and Lord. First Corinthians 15:9, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Ephesians 3:8, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” First Timothy 1:15, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” This is the heart of a man of God in tune with the reality of who he is in Christ, but with an indwelling enemy that he hated. Do you?
I don’t ask that in a trite manner–an emotional thought. I want to know, FBC, if we are in tune with the true reality of who we are? I often ask people I know and love how they are doing spiritually? And rarely do I hear these types of laments. I believe that if we were truly in touch with this enemy within us it would be heard in our prayers, it would drive us to serious dependence on our Lord. We would hear more of it in our discussions, and we would find less of its fruit in us.
Romans 7:21 says, “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.” This law of sin, or what we call indwelling sin, or let’s call it the enemy within us, is a principle that lives in us and never sleeps and haunts us even in our desires to do good.
The enemy in us is A LAW
“I find then the principle…”–the word principle is also used as the word “law.” Here it is not referring to God’s law, but Paul uses it to express the power, authority, constraint, and control that sin wields in our lives. For example, the law of gravity is a force that can make its objects obey its will. Hunger, thirst, and fear all impel us to fill their demands. Indwelling sin is just like that–enticing, threatening, even bullying us into submission.
This is the law–sin dwells in us. Paul has established his bewilderment in verses 14 to 20. God’s law is not the problem–the flesh is the problem. He says not in the flesh, but of the flesh. When Paul speaks of “the flesh,” he is referring to the remains of our sinfulness–our mortal weakness, our selfishness, our tendency to sin and failure. These will not be eradicated until we are finally glorified.
But we are not entirely at sin’s mercy, as we were as non-Christians. God says in Galatians 5:16 to 17, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”
The flesh is not our physical body here, or a specific part of our being. Paul isn’t setting up a dualistic theology between the material and immaterial part of humanity. “Spirit” here refers to the Holy Spirit. “Flesh” refers to the sinfulness that remains in us while we are on this earth. It is a corruption that influences every aspect of our being, body, mind, emotions and will. It is what makes us susceptible to sin, even after 2 Peter 1:4 says, “We are made partakers in the divine nature.”
Though sin does not reign in us, it nevertheless remains in us. It is dethroned, but not destroyed. “The flesh”, then, is not the body or soul, or any other part of our beings–it’s a principle that works in us. It is the source and stimulus of our sin. Though deprived of its dominion, it has not been divested of its potency, passions, or persuasive ability.
Yet Christians are completely different than non-Christrians–unbelievers are said to be Romans 8:8 to 9, “in the flesh.” But Christians are no longer in the flesh. Christians are in the Spirit. But we are still “of flesh” (1 Corinthians 3:1), that is, we are still fallen humans. Verse 14 says his fleshly body, members (verse 23) makes war with his new redeemed condition. Paul is emphasizing the serious nature that sin can have in the believer’s life, and its lifelong battle.
First John 1:8 to 10, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
“Sin is so wretched and powerful that even in a redeemed person, it hangs on and contaminates his living and frustrates his inner desire to obey the will of God.”
Verse 15 “I am doing the very thing I hate” (that’s the law of sin working)
Verse 16 “I do the very thing I do not want to do” (that’s the principle working)
Verse 17 “no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me”
Verse 18 “the doing of the good is not in me” ( the law of sin at work)
Verse 19 “I practice the very evil that I do not want”
Verse 20 “I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me”
He then summarizes all of this in one statement–“I find then the principle that evil is present in me.” Realizing this principle is the key to overcoming it.
Lungaard, author of The Enemy Within says, “Getting to know indwelling sin, as humiliating as it can be is our wisdom. If we have any interest at all in finding out what pleases the Lord and everything that grieves His Holy Spirit.” This enemy lives in us and never sleeps. “Dwells” is to live as a resident.
Verse 17 says, “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” The believer feels it, knows it, because he knows the remnants of original sin remain. Unbelievers can’t feel it, because their hearts flow with their natural bent to sin. The believer fights and strains against its strength. But I fear there is too little noticing that this enemy lives in you. Maybe you have become numb to its influence. If you are skipping through this life without a healthy knowledge of the enemy within, you will be caught in its snares.
The flesh is a relentless homebody. Wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever you think, whatever you say–the flesh is right there with you. Sometimes you think a certain struggle is gone, and then “bam” something triggers it out of nowhere—why? Because the flesh is a relentless homebody, it hates everything about God. Since it resists everything about God, it resists every way we try to taste Him and know Him and love Him. And the more something enables us to find God and feast on Him, the more violently the flesh fights against it.
The enemy haunts us even in the midst of doing good. Read verse 21, “the one who wants to do good.” I want to read God’s Word—“no, you are too tired, you need your sleep.” I want to give–there are so many eternal needs. “Man, we really need that new car.” I should get up and discipline my child—but can’t I just ever finish my show? I should be soberminded in my speech–but that dumb ref made another bad call, and I think I should let him know about it right now.
I know the Lord tells me to trust him and that He loves me–He is holy and never makes a mistake with my life. But my flesh tells me God is a cosmic killjoy, and He wants me to despair and remain unfulfilled.
So we have looked at the principle of indwelling sin, our enemy within, and understand that he lives in me and never sleeps, and even interrupts my godly attempts. So how does the flesh work? James 1:14 to 15 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.”
Can’t blame God, Satan or his demons, ungodly people, the world–it is our own desire that snares us. Verse 16 shows us that temptations usually hit you personally, where you are weak–“own desires.” This is why we might struggle in one area and someone else in another–because the flesh lives with you, it knows how to attack you.
The battle begins in the mind–the temptation arises, and the Bible tells us that we are carried away and enticed by our own desires. We are lured and take the bait. Once the mind has conceded, then we give way to the will–sin is conceived (born). The will is carried away–it no longer yields to the spirit. What are the implications for our flesh that wages war over control of our heart? Let’s discuss the subtle ways it works.
Subtle Ways the Enemy Works
Laziness–You set your alarm, and at 5 AM it goes off. Your mind convinces you that you need more sleep, the will caves in, and you hit the snooze button–the flesh wins. “Indwelling sin takes advantage of our natural laziness and negligence in spiritual things, enticing us to lay aside spiritual duties one by one. It won’t at first get God completely out of our minds. But it will talk us into thinking of him less and less, making us think we can get by with a little less prayer, shorter or fewer private devotions until he at last convinces us that we can get along without talking to God at all.”
External Worship–Going through spiritual exercises without heart and reverence for God, or going through the motions. Whether it be in corporate worship or private worship, your mind is somewhere else. And you convince yourself that your duty was enough–that’s the flesh. God in fact hates external worship, and requires that we come to him with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28 to 29).
Activity–Your mind convinces you that you have to be involved in this social event, this sports activity, this hobby, this committee, this other ministry, this political cause, and you become so lost in the activity that you forget the purpose of life–to glorify Christ in all things, and be a light for the Gospel. The flesh wins.
Unconfessed sin–You know your worry, impatience, greed, pride, anger, disobedience to parents seem so very little in the scheme of things, so you just kind of sweep them under the carpet and rationalize away your misdeeds as personality quirks. The flesh won.
Doctrine without heart–You know your position on the gifts, election, millenium, dispensationalism vs. reformed, even the doctrines of grace, ecclesiology, etc., and you hold on to these with self-satisfaction and ammunition for battle, and forget love and humility and contending for truth for the benefit of others. In other words, the doctrine never penetrates the heart, and you remain puffed up in your knowledge like the Corinthians that Paul describes (I Corinthians 8:1). The flesh wins.
Self-trust–You see things through your lens, and you discount the instruction and criticism from those around you. You have a sense of rightness, without considering that the flesh taints all of your perspectives. When you do this, you spurn the Scripture and ignore the command to not think more highly of yourself than you should, but to think so as to have sound judgment. When you have a sense of obstinate self-trust, the flesh wins.
Lack of private communion with God–You believe that you can live a godly life, have a vibrant marriage, be engaged parents, have integrity in the workplace, be obedient to parents, stand for truth among your peers, overcome sinful habits without a planned, regular, time of worship that includes prayer and study of the Word. If you are convinced of this, the flesh wins.
Expanding on this thought, Kris Lungaard says, “For the person who calls himself a Christian, who says he loves God, yet does not seek his company and delight in it, can’t be a true lover of God. His own flesh has deceived him. If he doesn’t daily give his heart to God and receive God’s heart in return, if he doesn’t daily renew his hatred of his own sin and his delight in God’s mercy, he has no relationship to God.”
The flesh lies to you–take care of your body before your soul . . . get the house organized before you clean your heart . . . provide for your family but don’t glean from your life instructional manual . . . you have to study for this exam before you study for the essentials of life . . . you have to get with family, friends, clients without ever approaching your Savior, Lord, faithful High Priest who loves you, sustains you, and strengthens you for battle. This, I believe, is the enemy’s greatest weapon–keep them from a devotional life, and they will soon subtly try to live this life in their own strength. And then the enemy wins.
How to Fight the Enemy
1. Meditate on the cross to see the depth of our sin and the fullness of Christ’s love. Jesus died to slay the very sin that grips you. If you are tired of the battle, bloodied by its war, you want to retreat or give up–Christ’s work is endless ammunition against this enemy, and He has plenty for you. Read Romans 6.
Hebrews 12:1 to 4, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A true, vibrant consideration of Christ and His work will destroy the flesh’s attacks.
2. Guard the mind. Be aware of sin’s deceit.
Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Philippians 4:4, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
The mind, in a sense, is the watchtower of the heart. When you let temptations enter into the point that the eye gate has been compromised, it’s only a little time before it penetrates the affections and the will. Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”
3. Fill your affections with heavenly things.
Colossians 3:1 to 3, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Do you analyze your daily pursuits in light of whether or not they are eternal endeavors? Work time, family time, leisure time, vacation time, shopping time, entertainment time–do you try to discern in the moment if the activity is one that is heavenly?
4. Live in the strength of God’s grace.
Second Corinthians 12:7 to 10, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ 10 Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Does this reflect your heart in the midst of any distress, trial, persecution, loneliness–God’s grace is sufficient for me?
5. Live by the Spirit
Galatians 5:16 to 17, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
6. Live by faith in God’s truth and His promises
7. Take the Sword of the Spirit–which is the Word of God
“He will cleanse us” I John 1:9
“You have been made complete” Colossians 2:10
“He nailed your sins to the cross” Colossians 2:14
“You are no longer a slave to sin” Romans 6:6
“He knows how to help” Hebrews 2:17 to 18, 4:15 to 16
“Nothing can separate you from His love” Romans 8:35ff
“No temptation is unique to God and give you the strength to endure” 1Corinthians 10:13
“All things work together for good” Romans 8:28
“He supplies all our needs” Philippians 4:19
“He answers prayer, He perfects us” Philippians 1:6
“Obey and honor your parents and it will go well for you” Ephesians 6:1 to 3
“We will be glorified with Him” Romans 8:13
“Heaven” I Corinthians 15:53
8. Devote yourself to God’s Word and prayer
Psalm 1:1 to 3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourself to prayer.”
9. Look towards heaven
Romans 8:17, “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
First Corinthians 15:53, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
10. Forget about the past, what matters is your pursuit!
Philippians 3:12 to 14, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 7:24 to 25, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”