Live No Lies by John Mark Comer
Biblical. Insightful. Spiritually-formative. That’s how I’d describe Live No Lies. I’ve been following John Mark Comer’s work for some years now, and I say with complete confidence that this is some of his best work. It sets out a strategy of attack for the greatest war of all time, a war we’re all caught up in but rarely acknowledge, a spiritual war. That nagging sense of mental fatigue, aimless wandering, frustration at a lack of growth in who we want to be — that’s coming from the fact that we’re in a war. We’re being assaulted all the time by three adversaries: the devil, the flesh, and the world. Comer argues that these adversaries work together to launch an assault on us in the form of (1) deceptive ideas (lies) about who we are and what we need, and these lies (2) play to our disordered desires (the flesh), which are (3) normalized by the fallen world around us.
Comer sets out our plan of attack rooted deep in Christian history. We take up the spiritual practices of Jesus: meditating on God’s word, praying, and replacing the lies of the devil with the truths of God. He also touches on fasting, a much neglected but historically critical practice for Christians in battling the flesh. With his classic conversational style, references to sage wisdom from the church and broader culture, and concrete applications, he leads readers in a direction we desperately need, the direction of Christ. The call to “live no lies” is the call we need in our cultural moment. This book couldn’t have come at a better time, and I’m recommending that every Christian work through these pages. Seldom is a book winsome, learned, and practical. This is one of them!
What I Loved
It’s rare to have well-read, conservative voices in our culture who also have their pulse on our personal spiritual formation. That’s what Comer is doing in this book. We all know we’re in the midst of a spiritual war; we can feel it in our bones. We sense it in our distraction and daze, our longings and abandoned dreams. Some enemy is trying to pull us out of our allegiance to God, away from our first love. Comer presents this enemy with the traditional concepts of the early church: Satan, the flesh, and the world.
Comer helps us not just by understanding the nature of these enemies, but by laying out their plan of attack so that we can be prepared to stand firm against them. I found it helpful that he ends each chapter by providing his definitions for important concepts so that you can rehearse the truths before moving on to the next chapter. In that sense, I think was designed as a sort of handbook for spiritual warfare, and it certainly can be! This is a book not just to read, but to use. And that puts it in a different category, especially given our climate of information consumption (even in theological circles). I love his practical concern for the church.
There are so many, but here are some of my favorites.
- “Our fight with the devil is first and foremost a fight to take back control of our minds from their captivity to lies and liberate them with the weapon of truth.”
- “Contrary to popular artistic imaginings, the devil is not in hell; he’s here, on earth. If Jesus’s anthem is ‘On earth as it is in heaven,’ the devil’s is ‘On earth as it is in hell.’”
- “Lies, that come in the form of deceptive ideas, are the devil’s primary method of enslaving human beings and entire human societies in a vicious cycle of ruin that leads us further and further east of Eden.”
- “One way to think about temptation is to see all temptation as the appeal to believe a lie, to believe an illusion about reality.”
- “The Genesis 3 lie is the paradigmatic lie behind all lies. The deception (or really temptation) is and has always been twofold: (1) to seize autonomy from God and (2) to redefine good and evil based on the voice in our heads and the inclination of our hearts, rather than trust in the loving word of God.”
- “You become what you give your mind to.”
- “Working theory of the devil’s strategy: deceitful ideas that play to disordered desires that are normalized in a sinful society”
- “Working theory of spiritual formation: It’s by spirit and truth that we are transformed into the image of Jesus and set free to live in line with all that is good, beautiful, and true. It’s by isolation and lies that we are deformed into the image of the devil and enslaved in a vicious cycle of disorder and death.”
- “Not all desires are created equal. Or at least, not all are equally beneficial. Some of our desires are higher or nobler and lead to life and freedom and peace; others are lower or more animalistic and lead to death and slavery and fear.”
- “Our strongest desires are not actually our deepest desires.”
- “Love is the desire not to take but to give. It’s the settled intention of the heart to promote good in the life of another.”
- “Freedom without self-mastery is a disaster waiting to happen.”
- “Every time we sow to the flesh — or put another way, every time we give in to our flesh’s desire to sin — we plant something in the soil of our hearts, which then begins to take root, grow, and, eventually, yield the harvest of a deformed nature. . . . Thankfully, the same is true of the Spirit. Every time you sow to the Spirit and invest the resources of your mind and body into nurturing your inner man or woman’s connection to the Spirit of God, you plant something deep in the humus of your central fulcrum, which, over time, takes root and bears the fruit of a Christlike character.”
- “Character is destiny.”
- “Everything starts with deceptive ideas, or lies we believe (put our trust in and live by) about reality — mental maps that come from the devil, not Jesus, and lead to death, not life. But deceptive ideas get as far as they do because they appeal to our disordered desires, or our flesh. And then the world comes in to complete the three enemies’ circular loop. Our disordered desires are normalized in a sinful society, which functions as a kind of echo chamber for the flesh. A self-validating feedback loop where we’re all telling each other what we want (or what our flesh wants) to hear.”
What I Would Have Liked
I’ve been training myself to be a gracious reader, seeing the best in other writers. That practice has made me resistant to offering critiques, even when I have them, though I also believe I’m morally obligated to offer critiques in love. Fortunately for this book, I really don’t have any. Perhaps Comer could have camped out a bit longer in some biblical texts, but I wasn’t bothered by his approach. He was paying attention to the original languages and engaging with historical and contemporary voices throughout. I found the book clear, focused, and profoundly useful.
Should You Read It?
Yes! As I’ve already said, this is Comer at his best. It’s engaging, conversational, thoughtful, and spiritually formative. You can’t often say all of those things about a book. So, yes: please read it!
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Pierce Taylor Hibbs is an award-winning Christian wordsmith. He’s the author of several books, including Finding God in the Ordinary, Struck Down but Not Destroyed, Finding Hope in Hard Things, and The Book of Giving.