Overcoming … The Devil

The Devil.  Our last enemy to consider is Satan; also known as the devil or the evil one.  Jesus taught us in John chapter 8 that at the heart of Satan’s character is a liar.  “The devil was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44).

At the heart of Satan’s temptations are lies.  Lies about Christ and His character.  Lies about Christ and His finished work on the cross.  Lies about Christ and His promised victory over sin in our lives.  Lies about Christ and His goodness.  Lies about Christ and His living inside us.  Lies about Christ and His love, acceptance, and forgiveness.  Lies about finding our satisfaction in Christ rather than Satan’s idols and ways.

So how do we overcome this last enemy and the temptations that come through his lies?  We overcome the devil by faith.  This is not just some kind of religious answer.  It has tremendous practical application.  The Bible teaches that “greater is He who is in you (God Himself) than he who is in the world (Satan)” (I Jn 4:4), and “this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (I Jn 5:4).  We overcome Satan – ruler of the world system – by faith.

What does this faith look like in practice?  It means that when Satan tempts us with his lies, we resist him by faith; our faith in Christ and our faith in His promises.  When Satan holds up a mirror to our failures and says “failure” is who you are, we rest in God’s promise that we are loved, accepted, and forgiven (Lk 7:36-50).  When Satan digs up our sinful past and says “sinner” is who you are, we believe God’s description of us as “holy and beloved saints” (Col 3:12).  When Satan puts his finger on a current sin challenge and says “go ahead and give in” since this is who you will always be, we trust in God’s promise that change is possible and sin will not longer be our master (Rom 6:6).

This resting, this believing, this trusting is done by faith.  We don’t try to outwork or outwit Satan.  We resist him and experience victory by believing God’s truth in place of Satan’s lies.

On more than one occasion, Jesus prayed that His disciples would be protected from the evil one.  We need that protection because Satan’s ways are so wily.  And one of his sneakiest attacks is to get us off the simple and clear message of the gospel.  Satan is happiest when we add all kinds of heaviness and nit-picking and rule-keeping to the gospel.  And Satan is most defeated when we feast on the true message of God’s grace.

Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, “”But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (II Cor 11:3).  Satan knows the power of the simple and pure gospel message to not only bring us redemption, but to transform us as well.  And he knows and celebrates the trouble we find ourselves in when we complicate the gospel.  When we add to the gospel with rules or arguments of minor issues or human logic that needs a pigeon-hole for every nuance of Scripture, we are adding a layer of complication that plays into Satan’s hand.

And the outcome of these additions is disunity, divisiveness, and disharmony and the death of our witness to the world.  Jesus promised, in His last prayer with His disciples in John chapter 17, that the world will judge whether or not the Messiah has come based on the unity of His body, the church.  And our witness is clearest when we practice the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”.  By faith, we believe in the power of the simple and pure message of the gospel.  Christ has overcome the evil one and when we allow Christ to live His resurrected life in us, we will overcome the devil as well.

Overcoming … The Flesh

The Flesh.  We now turn to the enemy within; the flesh.  In the New Testament, the apostle Paul gives us three visuals, complete with action verbs, for defeating the flesh.  They are walking in the Spirit, crucifying the flesh, and putting on Christ.  “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh … those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16,24-25).

Walking in the Spirit is living into all that Christ promised regarding the Spirit’s indwelling.  When we allow the Spirit of God to live the life of the Son of God through us, we are walking in the Spirit.  And I like the “walking” word picture used throughout the New Testament (Eph 4:1 and others).  There is an “action” to walking.  It is not a passive activity.

Here are some things Christ promised about the Spirit’s work in our lives.  We will hear the continuing voice of Jesus (Jn 10:27) through the Spirit (Jn 16:13).  We will be reminded of the words of Jesus through the Spirit (Jn 14:26).  The Spirit will be our Paraclete who comes alongside us; helping us to obey Christ’s commands (Jn 14:16).  And we will experience the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23).  This is all part of walking in the Spirit.

We have also been called to crucify the flesh; to deal a death-blow to the flesh at every opportunity.  The Bible says, “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.  For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come on the sons of disobedience.  And in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you also, put them all aside” (Col 3:5-8).

Basically, we are to treat the flesh as if it were dead.  Do not feed it.  Do not listen to it.  Do not follow its wishes.  Don’t even poke it to see if it is alive.  In short, we are to crucify the flesh; treat it as if it were dead.  And in its place, we are to put on Christ.

“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom 13:14).  The picture Paul uses throughout his letters is the idea of putting on the character and attributes and mindset of Christ just as we would put on the clothes in our closet.  There is a constant theme throughout the New Testament of laying aside the bad stuff and putting on the good stuff.

“Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other” (Col 3:12-13).  These attributes are what “putting on Christ” looks like.

What might be new to you about this theme is that it is not a drudgery.  Laying aside and putting on is not a daunting task.  You have been empowered by “Christ in you” to do it.  It is not another list, another task to be attempted by our self-effort.  It is fully relying on the Spirit to do His work inside us; conforming us to Christ Himself.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).  May the God of hope through the power of the Holy Spirit cause you to believe in abounding ways that you can do this.  You can overcome the flesh.

Overcoming … The World

How do we overcome the remnants of our indwelling sin and the enemies that stir them up?  How do we resist the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil?  We have talked often about the theological answer to these questions; overcoming sin by the power of the resurrected Christ literally living His life through us.  But what does that look like in practice?  Let’s take a look at some specifics.

The world.  We overcome the world by our love for Jesus.  “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (I Jn 2:15-16).

In the gospel of John, chapters 13 – 17, Jesus emphasizes the connection between love and obedience.  Simply put, our love for Jesus will motivate us to obey.  “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (Jn 15:9-11).

When we abide in Christ’s love, the love of Jesus and of the Father abides in us.  And this love will so fill us up that our love of the world will grow distant and dim.  Our desire to obey will increase.  And the beauty and end result of this love and obedience is incredible joy.  There is a joy in obedience – when motivated by our love relationship with Christ – that completely supersedes the promised joy of the world.  Obedience is not a drudgery; it is a source of joy.  The lure of the world diminishes as we experience the joy of loving and following and serving Jesus.

Earlier in His upper room discourse, Jesus makes the same love and obedience connection.  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Gk. Paraclete, one called alongside to help], that He may be with you forever” (Jn 14:15-16).  In this instance, Jesus promises a Helper in our quest to keep His commandments.

It is as if Jesus is saying, “Because you love Me, you are going to want to keep My commandments.  But you are not going to be able to keep them through your own self-effort.  So I am sending my Spirit to live inside you (Jn 14:17), and He – living inside – will empower your obedient life.”  Once again, it is Jesus Himself who provides even the guide within us to know and follow the way beyond sin.

This obedient life, energized by love, overcomes the siren call of the world; a world that is fading away.  “And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever” (I Jn 2:17).

“Sin Which So Easily Entangles Us”

Last time, we talked about the continuum regarding sin found in Hebrews chapter 12.  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).  On one end of the scale is the encouragement and expectation to “lay sin aside”.  At the other is the acknowledgement that “sin so easily entangles us”.

In light of the New Testament promise that our sin nature was destroyed at the cross and that we are now indwelt by the sin-crushing power of the resurrected Christ, how is it that sin still manages to gum up the works?  Let’s start by looking at what did – and what did not – change about sin at our new birth.

When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, your interaction with sin was radically changed.  What did not change was the presence of sin in your soul.  It remains inside, and it is still sin.  What did change so dramatically was sin’s status (it no longer reigns) and our relationship to it (we are no longer its slaves).  This change in status and relationship is a glorious deliverance for you and I.  Sin not longer holds us in bondage, outside of God’s presence.  Instead, this deliverance changes completely our interaction with sin.

We can now deal with sin in our lives from a perspective of promised victory rather than hopeless despair.  Let those words “promised victory rather than hopeless despair” sink in.  You need to hear them.  Because, quite frankly, they are too often missing from much of our Bible teaching today.  We hear too much about a civil war within as if we still have an equal powered sin nature and God nature battling it out in our lives.

Here is good news straight from God’s Word.  The battle is over.  Victory over sin was won at the cross.  The civil war does not exist.  Your fight with sin is from a stance of victory.  Our battles are skirmishes and mop up duty as we learn to live into the power over sin that Christ provides.  As Sinclair Ferguson writes in The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, “Not only has our relationship to sin changed, but God has planted within us His divine seed, and in this sense has “added” to our powers as well as “subtracting” from sin’s status!  We have good reason to enter the conflict with the enemy of sin in an optimistic mood!”

The enemy called sin referred to by Dr. Ferguson is often summarized as a conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  One passage of Scripture that alludes to these three enemies is Ephesians 2:1-3.  “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world [the enemy of the world], according to the prince of the power of the air [the enemy of the devil], of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh [the enemy of the flesh], indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2:1-3).

This specific passage clearly identifies these enemies as having held sway over us prior to our salvation, when we “were dead in our trespasses and sins.”  But it does give us a good picture of sin’s manifestations in the world, the flesh, and the devil.  And what we learn from the rest of the New Testament is that they are enemies still.

But never ever ever forget that on this side of our conversion their powers have been greatly diminished.  Their power is gone, but their presence remains.  Their mastery over us is gone, but their temptations remain.  And they still can entangle us.

So how do we overcome these entanglements of sin, empowered as we are by the Christ within?  We will tackle some specifics of all three of these enemies and our response to them next time.