The Nature of Our Fight
My wife has been into gardening lately. She is outside everyday tending to her garden. Making sure no bugs are eating the leaves, pulling weeds, strengthening the stakes that hold up the plants. Its quite possibly a lot more work than she thought she was getting into. I was thinking this week about what would happen if my wife laboured in her garden in the same way that many of us view the spiritual battle that we are in. Imagine that she just planted the seeds in the spring and waited for the harvest to come. By God’s grace she may have a couple of tomatoes at the end of the summer, but her garden would never grow and produce fruit in any measure that would be pleasing to her. In order to reap a satisfactory harvest, she has to invest significant time and resources in guarding and strengthening her garden.
Last week we started our summer series on spiritual warfare. The purpose of last weeks message was to get us to appreciate the reality of our fight. In the West we’ve been presented with a worldview and indeed a Christianity that somehow deceives us into thinking that the entire Christian life consists of sowing seeds of faith and then sitting around waiting for Jesus to bring us the harvest of salvation. Our anti-supernatural worldview blinds us to the reality of spiritual warfare, so that we don’t tend to the gardens of our souls. Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:10-12 are a wake-up call to us:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
We have to wake-up to the reality that we are, by nature of becoming citizens of Christ’s kingdom, engaged in a spiritual fight, against supernatural enemies that are bent on our destruction. We defined this as a mega-theme of scripture, extended as far back as Genesis 3 all the way to the end of this age in Revelation 21. Today we are going to look a little more closely at the nature of this fight.
A word of intro and confession: I have been a Christian for nearly 18 years, have had experiences in Roman Catholic, fundamentalist, evangelical, and charismatic churches, have been to over seven years of both Bible College and Seminary as well as having sat in sermons and done my personal bible reading and theological study. There are not too many theological positions and exegetical arguments that I am not at least acquainted with in passing. That said, as I started studying for this series, the content of today’s message, the simple presentation I am going to give you this morning, came out of left field to me. I had never come across it before in all my years of study and training – or maybe I had, but I had forgotten it. Now normally, when I come across a theological position that I have not been exposed to before, I get very suspicious. If someone comes out with a new position, then it’s most likely wrong. Yet the more I read and studied, this framework came up in every book I read, whether the author was coming from a Charismatic background, a deliverance background, a cessationist background, or whatever. After seeing it in four or five different places from authors that were all over the map theologically, I had to humble myself and recognize that all my learning wasn’t so great and extensive in this area. I am presenting to you this morning what is the historic orthodox position of the Christian church in regards to the nature of spiritual warfare. Maybe some of you will be like, oh I knew that already! Pastor Dan, you didn’t know that? But I only tell you this this morning to underscore our ignorance in regards to spiritual warfare and my prayer that together you and I can grow in this area that we’ve neglected here in this church and in our lives.
Perhaps the best passage which sums up the nature of our warfare is one we would probably not turn to at first because it is describing our life before becoming followers of Jesus. Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
The Bible teaches that there are three forms of evil influence that exert their power over the lives of people to lead them into sin and away from God. These are the Unholy Trinity. The first influence is the world (following the course of this world). The second influence in the passage is the devil (following the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit). Finally, the passage directs us to the third influence, our own flesh (in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind). The World, the Devil, the Flesh. We see this tripartite description of sinful influences elsewhere in scripture, for example James 3:15 says of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” Earthly (The World), Unspiritual (The Flesh) and Demonic (the Devil). Now get this, Ephesians 2 is saying that before we became Christians, we were held in bondage to these influences so that we were dead in sin and could not come to God. Everything within and outside of us was stacked against us living a life of holiness and righteousness that God requires. We were dead in our transgressions and sins. We were, as the theologians put it, sinners by nature, carrying out the desires of our flesh, and sinners by choice, following the pattern of this world. We were also, as 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us blinded by Satan, the God of this world so that we could not come to a knowledge of Jesus. We were dead and bound to the world, to Satan and to our own flesh. This is why salvation must be a spiritual work of God, not merely human reformation. But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, made us alive together with Christ, for it is by grace that you have been saved. He raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenlies, assuring our freedom, salvation, and ultimate victory over all these influences. Yet, even after uniting with Christ and receiving spiritual life from him, are we not still the target of Satan’s darts? Ephesians 6 suggests that we are. Are we not still living in this corrupt and godless world? Yes. And are do we not retain the “desires of the body and the mind – the passions of the flesh”? Of course we do. These three powers continue to exert their influence on us as Christians, but they are no longer compelling or irresistible. That’s the good news – this battle can be won, we are not bound to sin any longer as Christians. But we must take serious each influence in this spiritual battle we are fighting.
The Flesh: the flesh is our inner propensity or inclination to do evil. This is the internal influence of our warfare. It is the personal component. We must Render it Dead.
Now, there are two key passages that people immediately think of when they think of our fight against the flesh.
Romans 7: We read a passage like Romans 7 and because it hits so close to home, we are like, yep – that’s me. I guess this is the Christian life that I am resigned to. One long struggle against sin. No hope of ever gaining victory. We read that last verse, like a mockery, when Jesus comes back, He’ll save me from this body of death, but until then I an destined for defeat. Yet if we read Romans 7 in context, it says the exact opposite! How like Satan to trick us so that when we read a passage of Scripture we read exactly the opposite of what it says! This passage actually starts in Romans 6 with the question: what shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that Grace may abound? Paul’s answer is no way! If we died with Christ, then our old nature died with him and we have been given a new nature. He tells us we must do two things as a Christian 1) Consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ (6:11) 2) Don’t let sin reign to make you obey it (12) 3) don’t present yourself to sin anymore (13) – the reason, for sin will have no more dominion over you. Now we get to Romans 7, and yes there is this battle, but notice carefully the context – he is talking about the law in verses 7-14 – that it was only when he became aware of the law that he realized his inability to live up to it in his own strength. This is what happens when you as a Christian fight the flesh in your own strength, trying to muster up the discipline to fight sin. But remember Ephesians 6:10: Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Chapter 8:12:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
The biggest lie the enemy can get you to believe is that you are still a slave to sin and subject to your fleshly desires.
Galatians 5: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. How do we kill it? By starvation. Don’t feed it. Garden: everyday, tend to it.
The World: The world has been defined as the “unhealthy social environment in which we live” or “the present condition of human affairs in alienation from and opposition to God” “The world is an organized system in opposition and rebellion against God.” More simply, it is the poisoned cultural water in which we all are swimming. The thoughts, values, common sense, aspirations, dreams, taboos, expectations, what’s cool, tells us what we do when we get sick, what type of mate is attractive, and how we should meet, attract, and win them, which jobs lifestyles are desirable, how we should handle money and possessions, what is ultimately important in life and how we should die. This is the external influence of our warfare. It is the social component. We must Reject it. It is often our battles in this arena that make us reviled and rejected by others, just as Jesus was, because we are drawing lines in the sand and saying we not going to live for the things you lives for, believe the things you believe and seek the things you seek.
We need to be careful when battling this influence. Human cultures are not totally evil. Some aspects of culture are to be reaffirmed. They are good and as Christians we can say, good-job, that’s what God wants. Some are to be redeemed. They are morally neutral, and can be manipulated for good or evil, and as Christians we can use them to propagate the gospel and glorify God. But we have to reject and challenge our culture when it is setting itself against what Jesus wants for us.
How do we know when the world has to be rejected? The world is harmful and must be rejected when it either being used by Satan to distort Jesus and keep people from him, or when it is baiting the flesh so that it arouses our passions and leads us into sin.
- IICor 4:4: The god of this world (notice the title for Satan here) blinds the eyes of unbelievers so that they do not come to knowledge of the truth. Satan actually demonically manipulates culture so that unbelievers are unable to see the glorious gospel of Jesus. These include anything that has an “Ism”: Materialism, Evolutionism, Secularism, Relativism, Pantheism, Hinduism, Environmentalism, Mohammedism, Commercialism, Humanism, Patriotism, Occultism, Feminism, Chauvinism. Satan doesn’t care what the “ism” is, as long as you can’t see Jesus. Identify it and reject it.
- 1 John 2:16: For all that is in the world—the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes and the boastful pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. This world is set up to tempt you. It is set up to appeal visually to you, to catch your eye (like the fruit in the garden or the kingdoms of the world), it is set up to appeal to your physical needs (such as hunger, sex, pleasure, entertainment, comfort, security). And it is set up to appeal to your pride (you will be like God). Cut it out, turn it off, reject it. Someone used the example of bait on a hook. Don’t be a stupid fish. They think we are idiots.
The third influence is the Devil (and by devil we mean him and all his minions). They are our spiritual enemies. This is the Supernatual aspect of Spiritual warfare. We are to, as James 4:7 syas resist the devil and he will flee from us.
Why is his tri-partite understanding of the Christian Faith Helpful
1) It gives us a realistic picture of our plight: the deck is stacked against us. We need Jesus.
2) Holistic approach: It doesn’t help to focus on one area, but neglect the others. Maintaining Balance. Recognize that they work in concert with one another: not healthy to ask which is active – the answer is yes
3) Christian life as Process not Crisis: I wish I could tell you that we could just cast a demon out every time that you struggle with sin and bam – your delivered. Now I am not downplaying deliverance ministry either, it is one of the aspects, but the reality is that the nature of our warfare is ongoing wrestling. There is victory, however!
Don’t give up the fight! Keep going out to your garden with Jesus. Let him prop you up and strengthen your flesh, remove the weeds of the world, and resist the bugs that seek to devour.