Thursday, October 19, 2006

Book Recommendation-The Vanishing Conscience by John MacArthur

(This is adapted from the first book review/recommendation I wrote for the Church Newsletter about 7 years ago. Hopefully any changes are for the better.)

The Vanishing Conscience is a book well worth reading. It combines characteristics I find most useful when they are all present. It is challenging, convicting, exhorting, and encouraging. When a book combines all four of these characteristics it can give me a fuller picture of who I am in Christ, and where I’d be without Him. I can see my sin and see my Saviour.

The Vanishing Conscience is in some ways the most difficult book I have ever read. It is not written at a highly technical or scholarly level. Its style is very readable. The difficulty lies in how it challenged and convicted me. I often had to stop reading and examine myself and pray. This can be very profitable, as you are not allowed to be complacent. In fact, I would say if you can read this book without feeling challenged and convicted, you need to examine yourself to see if you really do know the Lord. Some sections did not bother me at all, but others cut deeply.

In the first section, MacArthur looks at society’s notions about sin and guilt. He shows how they are not only tolerated, but often condoned and even celebrated. He outlines the “victim mentality” and challenges you to examine yourself to see if you fall in with the world this way. He then proceeds to define the conscience and look at how it can be cleansed and strengthened (This is part of the encouraging the book does.) He then turns his attention to how sin can silence the conscience and lead to moral decline. We need to ask if this is happening to us.

In the next section MacArthur looks at the nature of sin. He begins by examining the doctrine of total depravity, using the first three chapters of Romans. He looks at how society focuses on self, not God. He moves on to how we try to justify our own sin, and then looks to Christ as the only answer. He outlines the need for repentance and being born again. He brings in the gospel. To believers this is wonderful encouragement. He then looks at misguided attempts to deal with sin, looking primarily at those who say we can be perfect in this life. Sanctification is a life long process. On various occasions MacArthur has stated, “It’s not the perfection of your life, but the direction.” It is important to see this. We are not perfect in this life, but we ought to be moving in that direction.

In the final section MacArthur deals with handling sin. He brings up the often neglected biblical teaching of mortification. Mortification is putting to death the deeds of the flesh. It is not effective if it’s only half-done. MacArthur explains mortification using I Samuel 15, which tells what happened after Israel had defeated one of their fiercest enemies, the Amalekites. God had told them to destroy everything connected to the Amalekites, but Saul didn’t fully obey. He even spared the Amalekites’ king. This was the final event that led to God rejecting Saul as king of Israel. It is well worth your time to read this section, as the full impact of this illustration can not be properly conveyed here.

MacArthur goes on to overcoming temptation. He explains the difference between temptation and God’s testing of us. Through Christ we can endure both. The most convicting part for me was the chapter on keeping a pure mind. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit our minds are the place we sin the most. Most visible or outward sin starts in the mind. If our sin stays in the mind, no one knows about it (except God, but we often ignore that). If the sin stays there we think we got away with it, but eventually it will catch up with us. MacArthur exhorts us to watch over our hearts and guard our thoughts.

The final chapter looks at how many in the church have substituted forgiveness of our sins, and the seriousness of sin with “feeling good”. He ends it with practical application for recognizing and dealing with sin in our lives. This is indeed the sort of encouragement we all need. The book also contains three appendices well worth reading.

Throughout the book, MacArthur looks to the Bible and to God. Jesus Christ and the gospel are prominent. He challenges us to examine our attitudes. The conviction I felt came from the Holy Spirit as God’s word was opened up and showed me my sin. I was encouraged in the application parts of the book, and in looking to Christ and what He has done. It is so easy to be lazy regarding our conscience and therefore how we live. This book deals with the heart and mind. It follows the idea of reformation starting with ourselves and working outwards. The Vanishing Conscience is a much needed and profitable wake up call I recommend for every Christian.

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