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The Enemy Within


They are called “sleeper cells.” Reportedly, they are made up of radicalized militants living within quiet communities all across America. These individuals don’t appear dangerous. They live under the radar of law enforcement and work quietly to recruit more people to their cause. They may not be noticed until they launch an overt terrorist attack. Even though they are not making headlines by brazen acts of evil, it would be foolish not to take them seriously.

Likewise, it would be dangerously naïve for us to believe that just because we Christians are not facing physical persecution and death threats, we are not under attack. Jesus says, “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20 NIV84) The Apostle Paul warns about unseen threats to the soul: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV84) Just as it was during the days of the Reformation, the devil and the world are waging all-out war against the message of forgiveness by faith in Christ alone. The pressure to surrender and give in to the attitudes and lifestyle of our amoral society is intense.

But there is another enemy, a “sleeper cell” within each of us, called the old Adam or our sinful flesh. He doesn’t always seem that dangerous. He wants us to believe that he’s on our side. Yet the old Adam is our enemy, because he wants nothing to do with the Lord Jesus. “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7 NIV84)

The old Adam is clever, persistent, and patient. He may opt for an “under the radar” approach rather than an obvious challenge to faith. He finds ready allies in Satan and the world. He makes compromise and accommodation with sin seem so reasonable. For example, we know how vital Christian education is to our spiritual wellbeing and that of our children. “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV84) We know that. We agree that it is true. We tell our children that the Word needs to be life’s number one priority.

Yet what happens? Young adults, among others, drift away from the Lord at an alarming rate. Faith’s grip on the Gospel seems so weak among so many. It’s easy to point the finger of blame at the world. We tell ourselves that the world is just so much more hostile toward believers than in past generations. We blame Satan for his nonstop scheming. Maybe we even fault God for putting people in difficult situations.

But what about us and our role? What is the priority in life for us and our children? We make time for what is truly important. Does the Word have a cherished place in each day’s schedule? Are you more likely to stay up late for a movie or to spend more time with the Lord in prayer? When a game is scheduled for the same time as the church service, what takes precedence? Take an inventory of your thoughts during the day. Do they center on the Lord’s love for you and your service to Him in response, or are they tied up with matters of work, traffic, and what to buy on Amazon? Our old Adam is quick to jump to our defense and provide all kinds of “reasonable” explanations for not following the Lord’s will. It doesn’t seem all that dangerous, but whatever leads us away from the Savior is a threat to our salvation.

Rather than ignoring the old Adam, Martin Luther points us back to our Baptism and how it signifies that the old Adam is to be drowned by daily contrition and repentance. The enduring value of the Reformation is that it continually leads us back to Scripture. There we see the enemies lined up against us. We see ourselves dead in sin and unable to do anything about it. But above all, we see Jesus, Who won the victory on the cross, and Who gives us His righteousness by faith. By God’s grace, the enemy within doesn’t stand a chance! His hold is broken. Sins are forgiven and buried in the depths of the sea where they can’t condemn us. May the Spirit renew our strength to guard against all the subtle attacks of the old Adam and to trust in our Savior as our only refuge and strength.

Michael Eichstadt is pastor of Messiah Lutheran
church in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, and president
of the Church of the Lutheran Confession.