The Christian Life and Its Warfare
THE BIBLE TEACHES that each disciple of our Lord has a number of enemies. These enemies war with the Christian as long as he continues beset with personal human frailties and is confined in an imperfect society. Life here on earth is both a testing ground and a battleground. The Christian must always keep in mind his pledge of fidelity to be a good soldier under his Captain.
Some who have come to Christ may have had the mistaken notion that salvation marks the end of serious temptation. But the serious disciple soon learns that such is not the case. The fact is that sincere conversion really marks the beginning of a great spiritual conflict. Before we turned about in repentance with determination to learn of Jesus, the devil exercised, at least indirectly, considerable influence in our lives. In such previous condition, we were part of the dominion of him whom Scripture calls "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). Our new allegiance had not yet been determined; we had not yet declared opposition against his wiles. But when we made open confession and enlisted on the Lord's side, conflict soon became a reality. All who are engaged in Christian warfare need encouragment. Because the Apostle Paul knew his spiritual son also had such need, he included in his letter to Timothy, "Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life whereunto thou art called" (1 Tim. 6:12). The context suggests some of the things with which we come in conflict.
The Christian life is indeed a warfare. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12 that "we wrestle" against the powers of darkness. It is a serious distortion of truth for any to imply, as do some evangelists, that becoming a Christian leads to a life of ease. All things do not become simple and smooth. The implication is false that, once one declares his determination to serve God, trouble and affliction are banished with that initial decision.
On the other hand, it cannot be said that the absence of conflict or struggle indicates our professions were invalid and that the Lord has ignored us. For God has not intended that His servants must sense discouragement and doubt every day. The Lord may see it in our best interests to receive certain providential protections in our first days in the school of Christ. Jesus deals tenderly with babes. In harmony with the prophetic word, Jesus said He would not break a reed already bruised and weak; that he would encourage, not quench, the smoking lamp that needed fresh supplies to break forth brightly (Isa. 42:3, Matt. 12:20). But it is surely true, as presented in Eph. 6, that there is a warfare throughout the course of Christian discipleship in which every believer who receives the crown of life will have overcome.--Rev. 2:10
The suggestion has been heard that it is better to let the Lord fight our battles. But any such retirement from the conflict would not develop the spiritual maturity necessary to enable membership with the "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37). All the more, then, that we value and apply the counsel of the apostles. Nine times in Eph. 6:1-17 the Apostle urges to action believers of various ages. The original Greek language in which the New Testament was written expresses its exhortations in the imperative mood: obey ye! honor! provoke not ye! nurture! be ye empowered! The instructions are personalized and direct: "Take ye up the whole armor of God in order that ye may be able to resist in the evil day, and having wrought all things, to stand."
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the might of his strength. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil."--Eph. 6:1-11
Of course, as the Apostle pointed out in another place, even though we are "walking in flesh, we war not according to flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful to God to the overthrow of strongholds, overthrowing reasonings, and every high thing rising up against the knowledge of God, and taking captive every design to the obedience of Christ."--2 Cor. 10:3-5
As God's people, we are really pilgrims and strangers here on earth. We are runners in a race (1 Cor. 9:24); we are sheep of one flock (John 10:16); we are branches of a vine (John 15:5). These illustrations present active relationships with God and with His Son. But they do not portray all the activities of the Christian. We are also soldiers engaged in a battle against spiritual enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. All three enemies exert their powerful influence, and any one of them could bring us down to defeat. Consider now one of these enemies:
The World--An Outer Enemy
The Scriptures instruct us to "love not the world." We also learn from Scripture that to be a friend of the world is to be an "enemy of God" (1 John 2:15, James 4:4). It is well to understand just what is meant in Scripture by 'the world' regarding which Jesus warned. The 'world' is that whole value- system which dominates whatever form of society may be our lot to experience, and it is contrary to the ways of God.
The term "the world" is used in the Bible in several ways. It sometimes speaks of the created world--the rugged mountains, the surging ocean waves, and the beauty of a sunset. These in themselves are not a threat to our spiritual welfare, and thus we would not consider the created world to be our spiritual enemy. The word 'world' is also used with reference to the world of people who make up our society. God loves that 'world', as assured in John 3:16, and we are exhorted to follow God's example of love for that world.
The 'world' which we are not to love is the self-centered way of human 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,' in the Greek, kosmos, is a system that comprises a way of life which, according to fleshly human values, is seen as exciting and colorful and seductive and sweet and wonderful. As a result, Christians are constantly in danger of getting involved and entangled in it to a degree that spiritual values could be given second place.
The Apostle John enabled believers to more clearly identify worldliness by explaining that it has three parts. Worldliness includes the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.--1 John 2:16,17
The "lust of the flesh" might be termed sensualism. This is a craving for anything that gratifies the senses. There is of course a legitimate satisfaction of body needs, but when we glut our senses, it becomes animal- like self-indulgence. For instance, when we satisfy an excessive appetite for food, or when we permit the exercise of sexual relationships to control our lives, we do not withstand the tendencies or allurements described as "the lust of the flesh."
The "lust of the eyes" may be termed materialism. This 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 for which a want develops. 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.
The "pride of life" might be called egotism. This 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 much money we spend in being hospitable, or how we dress.
The 'world' which is here considered exerts its influence on all of us. It surrounds us, and could come to dominate our personalities and mold our thoughts. How do we deal with this powerful enemy? Certainly the world is not "a friend of grace, to help us on to God," as the writer of a hymn once questioned. The Christian's citizenship is intended to be even now in another world. The Apostle Paul wrote in Phil. 3:20 that "our citizenship [mistranslated 'conversation'] is in heaven." That is why God sent His holy spirit to influence and guide our activities in the earth. We really must not participate in the activities of those who despise the standards of the Bible. How then do we deal with this insidious, alluring enemy? Perhaps the following suggestions will be helpful:
a) Continuously refuse to be guided by the world's standards of right and wrong. The majority of people move with the tide, doing 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 follow the crowd.
b) Avoid close, intimate relationships with worldly people. Such counsel from Paul in 1 Cor. 5:9-13 is essential. To cultivate intimacy with people who violate any moral law of which our conscience advises us is to put in jeopardy the healthy, active growth of the "new man." Children and youth need to be especially careful about the kinds of friends they choose.
c) We must not be ashamed to let others know where we stand in morality and principle. This does not require us to flaunt our religiosity. We must confess Christ unashamedly when his cause is ridiculed. Let us remember that actions still speak louder than words. We must stand firmly for what is right, always ready to let the children of this world see that we are guided by principles higher than those that govern society about us. We will demonstrate these principles with greater success and praiseworthiness if we keep in good memory the sentiments of a hymn: "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."
Now another enemy is considered:
The Flesh--The Inner Foe
There is that which the Bible calls flesh which is meat--that is not our foe. Flesh is also that fabric which covers our skeletons--human skin, tissues, and blood. And that is not our foe. The "flesh" which is our foe is our human nature with its natural tendency to unrighteousness and sin. The flesh which is our inner foe is our fallen self-centered nature, otherwise called "the old man" or the Adamic nature.
The facts of the case agree with the Bible teaching: that we are born with a mind that is inclined to sin. Our inbred aptitude to do wrong will be with us throughout our present human life. The true child of God has two dispositions or natures--the new life which we receive when we accept Christ fully and proceed to exercise obedient faith under His instruction; and the old sinful nature called the flesh, inherited from the disobedient Adam through our parents. The new nature is controlled by the holy spirit, and is spiritual, while the old nature is directed by earthly desires, many of which may be sinful.
Inasmuch as "we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Cor. 4:7), frequent conflicts result from the proximity of the two diverse and antagonistic dispositions. It is but natural that each of these two natures in its own realm seeks sustenance and prosperity. A vivid description of this conflict is found in Gal. 5:17. There Paul teaches what he also must have experienced: that the "flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other." In the following verses, fifteen works of the flesh are contrasted with nine fruits of the Spirit. A comparison of them makes evident the diverse qualities of the two natures, and the reality of a warfare. And the encouraging thing for us to ever keep in mind is that the Christian victory is assured to all who live and walk in the Spirit.
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another."-- Galatians 5:16-26
Even the most lofty actions of the true believer are sometimes tainted by selfishness and pride, and these are thus to that extent expressions of the flesh. This is because there is a warfare. It is even possible to express one's self in prayer with the purpose of impressing 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 any such selfish motives, are of the flesh, and thus not pleasing to God.
The flesh tends to be lazy and slothful; and it may be quick to develop vengeful thoughts. That kind of evil consideration may have flashed through our minds on occasion. The flesh is slanted toward self-admiration--our abilities, our strength, our cleverness, our ideas, even one's good looks with which many of God's people have been favored. These are fleshly appetites, and our senses are always at work to inform us what others think. These tendencies can only be controlled through the strength of the spirit of God.
The flesh may also manifest itself in more subtle 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 inclined to witness to them, but the old nature will supply excuses for disinterest and silence.
How to deal with this inner enemy, our flesh
We must learn to say 'No' to the desires of our fallen nature. The Apostle exhorted that we deny ourselves. "Abstain from the lusts of the flesh which war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11). The awareness of the reality of such serious conflict is good forewarning which will help us in the conflict.
We must continually reckon ourselves dead to sin. Every time the flesh makes known its desires to our consciousness, let us say in the spirit of Romans 6:6-11, "I died to sin; I am not going to let it have power over me." And let us say further: "Having died to sin, I am alive to God as a servant of righteousness. I am determined to continue in that service."
We must "walk in the spirit." That is the only way by which we will not "fulfil the lusts of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). Those who implore and allow the holy spirit to rule in them are those who deliberately "walk in the spirit," because they have planned to "walk in the spirit." We must consciously seek to know the will of God, and then consciously submit to what we conclude His will to be. Oh that we may carefully comply with God's will as it is revealed in the Bible.
The warfare common to every sincere believer is described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7. He said of himself, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing." Once God's righteous standard is understood, we, as Paul, become convicted of our utter unworthiness. "I find then a law [that is, 'something established'] that, when I would do good, evil is present with me." But because he had been converted to faith in his savior and redeemer, Christ Jesus our Lord, there was another law [that is, 'something established'] within him. Of that he wrote: "I delight in the law of God after the inward man."--Rom. 7:18-23
Fellowship with God, with Christ who sitteth at His right hand, and with "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus" is an essential experience to overcoming the lusts of the flesh. The Apostle recommends this three-fold assistance in 1 John 1:3: "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Only with the encouragement which flows to the new creature through such communion, can we fulfil the admonition of Paul. All are exhorted in Col. 3:1-3: "Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." See also 2 Tim. 3:12.
Another potent foe is now considered:
Satan--The Wily Enemy
Every believing Christian is subjected to the influences of the world (the prevailing secular culture) from without. We are also subjected to the persuasions of the flesh (our imperfect and twisted fallen nature) from within. But beyond both these powers is the devil, who seeks to bring us captive "to do his will."--2 Tim. 2:26
Satan is leader of a host of demons who oppose the will and work of God, and who endeavor to defeat those who have accepted the free gift of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. He is described in Scripture as a deceiver, a liar, a murderer from the beginning, an accuser, a tempter, a prince of devils, 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. Satan and his host teach his own doctrines (1 Tim. 4:1); he has his own ministers (2 Cor. 11:15); and is therefore pictured as having his own fellowship table (1 Cor. 10:21). The great Adversary does all he can to hinder our Christian lives. He continues to enslave in darkness those under his control, and constantly challenges the allegiance of the saints who are in light (Col. 1:12). By this he endeavors to have us work his evil purposes.
Satan's attacks do not always come in open and easily observed forms. They are often subtle and crafty. 'Wiles', similar to the word in this subhead, is a translation of the Greek word methodeia, and means, "that which is traced out with method; that which is methodized; and then that which is well laid--art, skill, cunning." It is used only in Eph. 4:14 and 6:11. Satan is not a monster that carries a pitchfork. He may come as 'an angel of light' (2 Cor. 11:14). Of course it would be simple to identify and defeat the devil if he came openly, saying, "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 then be easy for us to say, "Get thee behind me, Satan."--Matt. 16:23
But Satan doesn't ever come in such a way as to enable us to easily identify his hand. He uses the allurements of the world and the appeal of the flesh (the first two enemies in our warfare) to try and get us to do what God forbids. One of his techniques is to bring discouragement. He wants us to become downhearted so that we will lose confidence. He works hard to bring depression and despondency into our lives. At some point along life's pathway, the devil does his best to implant in the mind of the Christian the thought that we are failing.
Another scheme Satan uses is to deny truth. He tries to break down the sacredness of marriage, the sanctity of human life, and the validity of moral standards. The devil also seeks to instill complacency. He would keep us from concentration in prayer. He would distract us from the careful study of the Word. He would seek to instill a feeling of cowardice so to turn us from witnessing. And there is another tool which the devil frequently uses. It is called deceit. He knows how effective it was with Eve (1 Tim. 2:14). He influences teachers of religion to present a mixture of truth and error--so that people become confused, mixed up, and uncertain as to just what is truth.
How can we deal effectively with this most potent enemy? Assuredly, we must take a determined stand against him. The apostles have given important and timely counsel. In James 4:7 we are instructed to "resist the devil and he will flee from you." Paul instructs us to put on the full set of armor provided for battle, first making sure that we have our "loins girt about with truth." Especially-noted components of the Christian armor are the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. These are all to be worn when having our "feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." And finally, we must persevere in the fight against principalities and powers, watching "with all perseverance."--Eph. 6:12-18
There are three enemies which the Christian faces in his daily life of faith-- the world, the flesh, and the devil. We must determine to continually, daily renounce each of these enemies if we will please the Lord. Separating from the world is important to our overcoming it. We must refuse to be guided by the world's standards of right and wrong. And denying the flesh is important to our overcoming its inclinations. We must learn to say "No" to the desires of our fallen nature. And resisting the devil is important to our overcoming him. We must take a determined stand against Satan and not give him a foothold in our lives.
The Christian life is one of persistence--sticking to our tasks, and not giving up. That is the admonition of Ephesians 6:18: "Watching...with all perseverance and supplication." May we ever be ready to receive the help and comfort which our gracious Lord has provided in His precious and holy word.
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