Kris Lundgaard has done the church a great service by bringing the wisdom of John Owen into the 21st century. Those who can read Owen, should. But for the average lay person won’t read Owen, or for the person wanting to get a taste of Owen to whet his appetite for the real thing, there is no better starting place than Lundgaard.
Below is some practical wisdom gleaned from his book, The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin, which is a modern re-writing of Owen’s classic, The Mortification of Sin. Here he speaks about how our flesh–indwelling sin–seeks to dampen our love for Christ. Thinking about these things will surely put us on guard against them. I have reworded the heading but the descriptions are straight from the book.
Seven Cold Splashes on First-Love Fire
1. The flesh lessens our love one sin at a time. 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.
2. The flesh tries to make our worship of God into a formality with no power. The flesh will let us go through the external motions of spiritual duties, without any fear or reverence for God—so that our worship becomes a stench in God’s nostrils. Hebrews 12:28–29 says, “Let us worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” God won’t accept mere outward worship from us. When we deal with him, he demands our whole heart and soul and mind and strength—not just our bodies, but our thoughts, our longings and dreams, our everything (John 4:23–24). To approach him without fear is to approach him without thinking about who he is: the God of the universe, who holds the nations in his hands, who can create and destroy.
3. The flesh diverts us away for Christ. The flesh wants to sidetrack us from the simplicity of the gospel, so that Jesus is not our all in all. It steers us toward a religious or political or moral cause as a substitute for passion for him. It entices us to give our lives to the cause as our chief end. Like the husband who will paint his body the colors of his team and scream his lungs out and high-five his friends at the stadium, then come home from the game and hardly look at his wife, there are many passionate, outspoken activists who never lift their eyes above the cause to see the Christ. They’ve lost their first love in a swirl of activity.
4. The flesh leads us to cherish and harbor sin in our hearts. Augustine, before he was converted, was in love with his sensuality. He couldn’t bear a night without a lover. As his heart was turning to God, as he felt conviction for his sin, but before he knew what it was to love God, he prayed, “Lord, give me purity—but not yet.” When David prayed in the Psalms about his unconfessed sins, he admitted they crushed him, blinded him so that he couldn’t look at God—they festered like untreated wounds and killed his love for God (Psalm 40:12; 38:5). Unrepented and cherished sin douses the fire of first love.
5. The flesh causes us to separate the truth of God’s word from its effects on our heart and life. “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). When Paul said that to the Corinthians, he wasn’t suggesting they stop learning the Word of God. He was condemning knowledge that seems to grow but never moves the heart. A person with a big head and a small heart can learn the doctrines of sin, yet never be convicted of sin. He can learn the teachings of grace and pardon and the great atonement for sin, yet never feel the peace of God that passes understanding. When the flesh gets a person to the point that he can sit under the teaching of the Word, and even delight in it for its intellectual beauty, yet not be changed, he has snuffed out the wick of his first love.
6. The flesh gets us to do our own thing. The flesh tries to put out the fire of our love by gradually persuading us to live according to its wisdom, rather than God’s. The wisdom of the flesh is to trust in self (the flesh). God condemns such “wisdom” in Isaiah 47:10: “Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me.’” A believer can’t sing both “I Love You, Lord” and “I Did It My Way.” Independence is the opposite of faith and love. Faith and love trust another; the flesh’s self-trust douses the fire of first love.
7. The flesh leads us to neglect communion with God. The greatest destroyer of first-love fire is the neglect of private communion with God. In Isaiah 43:22 God says, ‘You have not called upon me, O Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel.’ Two lovers who never speak to each other are not two lovers. A husband who avoids his wife, who reads the paper when she wants to talk he won’t have to commune with her, simply doesn’t love her. Period. 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 will pull countless tricks to get you away from your prayers and meditations. . . . Listen to this and remember it always: What you are when you are alone with God, that you are— and nothing more. You may make a great show of love and faith in church, singing like Pavarotti or attracting the masses to your profound Sunday school lectures. But if there is no private communion between you and Jesus—frequent and deep communion—then your religion is worthless. You’ve lost your first love. You stand at the end of Jesus’ finger, aimed at your face with his threat: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:4–5)