Book Review: Licensed to Kill by Brian G. Hedges

Christians know we’re supposed to hate sin, but it doesn’t always seem like we actually do. Sometimes we treat sin like it’s an eccentric relative rather than an enemy. Other times we treat it as a pet that can be tamed. But sooner or later that crazy uncle is going to do something, well, crazy. Sooner or later the pet we’ve worked so hard to tame is going to turn on us. And when it does, it needs to be put to death. That’s why Brian Hedges wrote Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin. In this book he offers readers “detailed instruction on surviving a dangerous assignment while in aggressive and hostile enemy territory”—the tools we need to not just pacify sin, but to kill it.

Each chapter addresses an important aspect of killing sin, explores what Scripture says about mortification and offers a series of application based questions. This format is incredibly helpful for readers as it allows us to not only gain the “head” knowledge we need to fight sin, but figure out how it impacts our hearts as well.

Perhaps the chapter I most appreciated/found most challenging was chapter three, “The Monster Within.” Here Hedges addresses indwelling sin, helping readers to understand that sin isn’t something that’s outside that you can catch like a cold—it’s part of who we are. “[S]omething inside me hates God… There is something in me that is anti-God, opposed to him in thought and intention, rebellious to the core,” he writes. “Something in me hates God even while I love him. I’m at war with myself” (pp. 33-34).

This is something that we have to get if we really want to understand why we continue to sin, even after we’ve been made new creations in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). Even though we are being made new, we’ve been given new hearts, new minds, new desires, sin still remains. This is what, as Hedges rightly points out, the apostle Paul laments in Romans 7:14–25, culminating in his cry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

But, following the apostle’s teaching, Hedges is also quick to offer hope—that although sin continues to be present in the body, its authority is broken. It has influence—sometimes strong influence—but no legitimate authority. And although this influence inevitably causes internal conflict, the grace of God is sufficient to allow us to whether the conflict (even when we stumble):

God does for us what the law cannot do. By sending his Son to die for us and his Spirit to live in us, he causes another law to kick in—a law that brings progressive freedom from this gravity of depravity, the down-drag of sin: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). The gravitational pull of sin is overcome by the aerodynamics of grace in the Father’s gift of his Son and Spirit. (p. 39)

Chapter six offers additional encouragement in the battle against sin, reminding us of the power of the gospel.  Here he reminds us that through the gospel, we are offered “the transforming power of union with Christ, the expulsive power of a new affection, [and] the practical power of replacing sin with grace” (p. 64). Through the gospel, we are not only made new and given a clean slate, but we’re given Christ’s righteousness. This is one half of what Luther called the great exchange. Through the gospel we are given new affections toward God that push out our old desire to rebel against Him. And the through the gospel we are able to identify sin, repent of it and pursue those new affections and desires that come from the new heart.

The lesson is this: we can kill sin only when we cultivate the virtues of Christ and the graces of the Spirit in sin’s place. And the only way to cultivate this kind of character is through the regular practices of Christian community: peacemaking, Scripture intake, admonishing one another, worship, and grateful prayer. These are the practices that help us set our affections on Christ and put our mouths out of taste for the deadly pleasures of sin by giving us greater satisfaction in him. (p. 71)

Sin is not a pet. It’s not a play thing. It’s an enemy. Either kill it, or it will kill you. The tools Brian Hedges gives you in  Licensed to Kill will help you to do exactly that. Get the book, read it carefully and apply it well.


Title: Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin
Author: Brian G. Hedges
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2011)

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  • http://elehack.net/jennifer Jennifer Ekstrand

    If someone was deciding whether to read Owen’s Mortification of Sin or this book, what would you tell them?

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      This book is highly influenced by Owen’s, but I’d recommend reading this one first if they’re looking for something that’s easily digestible before digging into Owen.

  • http://twitter.com/deanrobertsnet Dean Roberts

    Thanks for the heads up on this – will definitely add it to my reading wish list!

    http://deanroberts.net