The Bible teaches that each of us has a number of enemies which will war against us as long as we live. Life here on earth is a battleground. The Christian must be a good soldier. The hymn-writer says, “Sure, I must fight if I would reign; increase my courage Lord. I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.”
Many who come to Christ are victims of the mistaken notion that salvation marks the end of serious temptation. The fact is that conversion really only marks the beginning of a great spiritual conflict. Before conversion, the devil had full sway in our lives. Satan had things going his way and he did not have to put up a fight. But when we stepped out on the Lord’s side, conflict became a major issue. Thus we read in 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life whereunto thou art called.”
The Christian life is indeed a warfare. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12 that “we wrestle” against the powers of darkness. It is a tragic distortion of truth when sometimes church leaders and evangelists imply that becoming a Christian leads to a life of ease—and that it is simple and smooth. They imply that to come out on the Lord’s side cures everything—one dose and there’s no more trouble! And then there are certain brands of preachers who say that to go on fighting and struggling is a sign that one has never had a real experience with the Lord. But notice that in Ephesians 6 the battle is a warfare which you and I have to wage. The grammatical construction of Ephesians 6:10 says, “You be strong,” and in Ephesians 6:11, “You put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand.” The teaching which says that if you have been trying to fight the battle, you must stop doing so; hand it over to the Lord and all will be well; that kind of teaching is not found in Ephesians 6, nor is it found anywhere in the Bible. You must fight! You must keep on fighting!
God’s people are pilgrims and strangers here on earth. We are runners in a race; we are sheep in a sheepfold; we are branches of a vine. But also, the Bible says that we are soldiers engaged in a battle against spiritual enemies. The Christian faces three bitter enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil. All three enemies exert their powerful influence in order to bring us down to defeat.
1. The Outer Enemy—the World
The Scriptures instruct us to “Love not the world” (1 John 2:15) and they remind us that to be a friend of the world is to be an “enemy of God” (James 4:4). The “world” is that whole value-system which dominates society, and is contrary to the ways of God.
The term “the world” is used in several ways in the Bible. It sometimes speaks of the created world—the rugged mountains, the surging ocean waves, and the beauty of a sunset. Yet these are not in themselves a threat to our spiritual welfare, and thus the created world is not our spiritual enemy. The word “world” is sometimes used to speak of the world of people who make up our society. But God loves the people of the world, and we are exhorted to follow His example.
The “world” (which we are not to love) is the man-centered way of life which ignores God, and operates by selfish principles and lives by ungodly standards. The philosophy of the world says that the only important thing is “this life.” The principles of the world are force, greed, selfishness, ambition, and pleasure. The “world” (kosmos) is a system of values that comprises a way of life which is exciting and colorful and seductive and sweet and wonderful—and as a result, we are constantly in danger of getting wrapped up in it, and in danger of giving spiritual values second place.
The Scripture (1 John 2:16-17) breaks worldliness into three component parts. Worldliness includes the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.
The “lust of the flesh” (sensualism) is a craving for anything that gratifies the senses. There is of course a legitimate satisfaction of bodily needs, but when we glut our senses, it becomes animal-like self-indulgence. When we allow the appetite for food to become excessive; when we permit the exercise of sexual relationships to become illicit—all this is sinful and worldly.
The “lust of the eyes” (materialism) is a covetous itching to own what we see. It is the selfish desire that rises when we see things which we really don’t need but want. It is the longing to possess, the desire to get, the eagerness to acquire. The “lust of the eyes” is dreaming about that new “something” which we someday hope to get. One writer says it is the undue desire to get things we don’t need, and buy them with money we don’t have, in order to impress people we don’t like.
The “pride of life” (egotism) is the desire to enhance one’s own prestige and to push ourselves up. It is the hankering to inflate our own reputations. It is an attempt to get the spotlight shining on ourselves. The “pride of life” is putting on an air of “being somebody”—a vain display of who we are—perhaps by the way we talk, or how we dress, or how much money we spend on a wedding, etc.
These have been various kinds of worldliness—sensualism, materialism, and egotism. Worldliness is not only dancing and card playing and sharp dressing. It includes those things—but worldliness is the desire to glut our physical appetites (lust of the flesh); the longing to possess more and more material things (lust of the eyes); and the hankering to inflate our own reputations (pride of life).
The world exerts its influence on all of us. It would like to dominate our personalities and mold our thoughts. How do we deal with this powerful enemy? The hymn-writer asks a searching question: “Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help us on to God?” And the answer is obviously, “No.” Our citizenship is in another world. We are guided by another Spirit. We cannot go arm-in-arm with those who despise the standards of the Bible. How then do we deal with this enemy? There are several responses.
a) We must continuously refuse to be guided by the world’s standards of right and wrong. The majority of people swim with the tide, and do as others do. We must disassociate ourselves from the value-system of the world, and its preoccupation with pleasure and wealth and power. We must refuse to swim with the tide and follow the crowd.
b) We must avoid close, intimate relationships with worldly people. Acquaintance is one thing, but intimate friendship is quite another. To cultivate intimacy with worldly people is dangerous to the soul. Children and youth need to be especially careful about the kinds of friends they choose.
c) We must clearly confess Christ on all proper occasions. We must not be ashamed to let others know where we stand. This does not mean that we should blow a trumpet before us, but we must stand firmly for what is right, habitually ready to let the children of this world see that we are guided by principles higher than those that govern society about us.
The attitude of God’s people should be: “Take the world, but give me Jesus; all earth’s joys are but in name; but His love abides forever, through eternal years the same.”
2. The Inner Foe—the Flesh
The “flesh” is our human nature with its natural tendency to sin. The “flesh” is sometimes used in the Bible to speak of “meat.” Sometimes it refers to the fabric that covers our bony skeletons (the skin and tissues and blood of the human body). But here the word “flesh” refers to our fallen self-centered nature (sometimes called “the old man” or “the Adamic nature”).
The Bible tells us that we are born with a heart that is inclined to sin, and that this bent to do wrong will be with us through life. A Christian has two natures—the new life which he received when he accepted Christ, and the old sinful nature called “the flesh.” The new nature is controlled by the Holy Spirit; the old nature is characterized by sinful desires. When the sinless new nature is placed alongside the depraved old nature with which we were born, there is conflict. Galatians 5:17 describes it very vividly. The “flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other”—and then specific sins of immorality and false worship and hostility are named.
Even our most lofty actions are sometimes tainted by selfishness and pride and thus are expressions of the flesh. It is possible to pray in order to impress others with our spirituality. It is possible to give money in order to be applauded for our stewardship. It is possible to witness in order to be praised for our evangelistic zeal. Such activities (if performed out of selfish motives) are of the flesh, and are not pleasing to God.
The flesh has a bent toward rejecting authority; it tends to be lazy and slothful; it is quick to develop vengeful thoughts; it is slanted toward the worship of self (our abilities, our strength, our cleverness, our ideas, our good looks). These are fleshly appetites that need to be controlled with the help of the Spirit of God.
The flesh nature, in fact, can drag us down into the worst kinds of activities. Animals live by instincts, and the flesh tends to do what our natural instincts would crave. Our English language picks up these ideas. In many English-speaking cultures, a woman who quietly slips around maligning others, is called “catty.” A grouchy man is called “an old bear.” A shrewd businessman is said to be “foxy.” A cowardly person is called a “chicken.” No matter how refined we might be, the “flesh” with all its primitive qualities can crop up any time, and almost without thinking, we can find ourselves acting like a mule or a fox or a chicken.
The “flesh” also manifests itself in more refined forms. The new man (the new nature in us) knows we should study God’s Word, but the old man (the flesh) tries to keep us too busy to do that. The new man knows we should be a peacemaker, but the old man thrives on controversy. The new man knows we should be patient with people and witness to them, but the old nature doesn’t care.
How do we deal with the inner enemy—the “flesh?” In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul saw himself indwelled by two laws: One delights in the law of God; the other delights to bring him into spiritual defeat. The fact that Paul says, “I delight in the law of God,” shows that he is speaking of the period after his conversion, because an unconverted person does not “delight in the law of God” (Romans 7:22). Paul explains in Romans 8, however, that none of us needs to be a constant victim of the power of indwelling sin:
a) We must learn to say “No” to the desires of our fallen nature. We read in 1 Peter 2:11, “Abstain from the lusts of the flesh which war against the soul.”
b) We must continually reckon ourselves dead to sin. And so every time the “flesh” rears its ugly head, we must say (Romans 6:11), “I died to sin; I am not going to let it have power over me.”
c) We must “walk in the Spirit” and in this way, Galatians 5:16 says we will not “fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” To “walk in the Spirit” means that we must deliberately allow the Holy Spirit to rule us. We must consciously submit to His wishes. And we must carefully comply with His will as it is revealed in the Bible.
3. The Stubborn Adversary—Satan
Every believing Christian is subjected to the influences of the world from without (the prevailing secular culture). Also, we are subjected to the persuasions of the flesh from within (our twisted fallen nature). But beyond both these powers, is the devil, seeking to hold us in captivity.
Satan is the commander of a large host of demons who are opposed to God, and who are dedicated to the task of defeating those who have accepted the Lord’s salvation. The Bible describes him as a deceiver, a liar, a murderer, an accuser, a tempter, a prince, and an evil one. He beguiles and seduces and opposes and deceives and sows tares and hinders and tempts and blasphemes. He is personal; he is intelligent; he is destructive. He has his own synagogue (Revelation 2:9). He has his own gospel (Galatians 1:6). He has his own ministers (2 Corinthians 11:14,15). He has his own doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1). He even has his own communion service (1 Corinthians 10:21). Satan will do all he can to hinder our Christian lives. He is constantly battling for the soul of the sinner as well as for the life of the saint.
Satan’s attacks do not always come in open and easily observed forms. They are usually subtle and crafty. He is not a monster that carries a pitchfork. He often comes as an angel of light. It would be much more simple to identify and defeat the devil if he would come to us honestly and say, “Good morning sir, I am the devil, and I want to get you involved in something that will bring misery and wretchedness, and in the end will dishonor your Savior.” It would be easy then to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan”—but he doesn’t come in such an open way.
Satan uses the allurements of the world and the appeal of the flesh (the first two enemies) to try and get us to do what God forbids. One of his techniques is to bring discouragement. He wants us to become downhearted and to lose confidence. He works hard to bring depression and despondency into our lives. At some point along life’s pathway, the devil will do his best to implant in your mind the thought that you have been a complete failure.
Another scheme Satan uses is to deny truth. He tries to break down the sacredness of marriage, the sanctity of human life, and the absoluteness of moral standards. The devil also seeks to instill complacency. He will keep us from concentration in prayer. He will distract us from the careful study of the Word. He will seek to make us cowards when it comes to witnessing. Furthermore, the design of the devil is to use deceit. He influences teachers of religion to present a mixture of truth and error—so that people become confused, and mixed up, and uncertain.
How do we deal with the devil? For one thing, we must take a determined stand against him. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Then too, we must put on the full set of armor provided for battle. Ephesians 6:14-18 describes the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And finally, we must persevere in the fight against principalities and powers. Ephesians 6:18 says we should watch “with all perseverance.”
Some of you have read about the two frogs that fell into a farmer’s bucket of cream. They tried over and over again to get out by climbing up the sides of the bucket, but each time they slipped back into the bucket. Finally, one frog said, “We’ll never get anywhere doing this; I give up.” (He went down into the bucket of cream and drowned). The other frog saw the consequences of giving up, so he decided to keep on trying. Even if he didn’t succeed, he would at least go down trying! And so over and over again he tried to climb out with his front legs, and kept kicking away with his back legs. Suddenly he felt something solid! All his kicking had turned some of the cream into a lump of butter—and so he hopped on top of it, and leaped out of the pail. That’s persistence! That’s sticking to a task! That’s not giving up! And that’s what Ephesians 6:18 says we must do in the Christian life . . . “Watching . . . with all perseverance and supplication.”
These then are the three enemies of the Christian life—the world, the flesh, and the devil. We must determine to renounce each of these enemies if we want to please the Lord. We can overcome the world by separating from it. We must refuse to be guided by the world’s standards of right and wrong. We can overcome the flesh by denying it. We must learn to say “No” to the desires of our fallen nature. We can overcome the devil by resisting him. We must take a determined stand against Satan and not give him a foothold in life.