SPIRITUAL WARFARE PART 1
February 05, 2008
Number Two, the flesh. The world is your external enemy, the flesh is your internal enemy and I want you to see how these work together.
Your flesh (internally) has sinful desires, rebellious proclivities and the world continually provides opportunities for sin in the flesh. One of my favorites on this is the Puritan Thomas Brookes. He's got a book, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. I think he's one of the greatest puritan writers. He's just a very skilled writer. And he uses this analogy which I really like, I use it sometimes in my preaching--and that is that you need to see your flesh as a hook and you need to see the world as bait. I'm paraphrasing. That in you there are wicked desires and in the world there are wicked opportunities to feed those desires and they work together and all Satan wants to do is bait your hook with whatever feeds your flesh. So he'll take anything from the world, put it on the hook of your flesh. As long as you bite he doesn't care. Satan will give people sex, money, fame, power, glory. He'll give them whatever they want. He doesn't care because his whole goal is to get them to bite and then reel them into destruction and death.
If you're a fisherman you know it's that way. Fisherman know fish are not the most brilliant of creatures and depending on what fish you're trying to catch that determines what bait you put on the hook and you drop it in and you wait for one that is foolish enough to bite thinking they're going to feast and then you feast on them. That's how Satan works. The key is with yourself and the people that you counsel to really come to the place of honesty about the hooks in the flesh. What is, what is the hook that you're most prone to bite on? Is it sex? Is it drugs? Is it alcohol? Is it money? Is it pride? Is it comfort? What does Satan like to bait your hook with because it tends to be where you most frequently bite.
And when we're speaking of flesh, we're talking not just of your physical body--a misunderstanding of that word in some translations (they really confuse this) the flesh is not just your physical body, your flesh is your internal resistance to God. It's rebellion. It's that Adamic seed. It's that corrupt aspect. We're made in God's image; were image bearers; we sin; we become marred, stained, effected by sin; we still bear God's image and when we become a Christian we get a new heart and a new nature and a power through the Holy Spirit (the great doctrine of regeneration) but we still have flesh. We still have fleshly desires, fleshly yearnings. They don't completely go away until we're glorified (right?), we die, we rise, and we start over, as it were. But Christians still have fleshly desires.
Non-Christians, that's what compels and motivates them, are fleshly desires. And it doesn't mean they always only sin, it means that even they do it's for self glory instead of God and still it's a fleshly motive even if for a perceived good thing. So flesh is internal resistance, disobedience, defiance to God, desire for things that God forbids and are not good for us. The Bible talks a lot about flesh.
The NIV will use words like "sin nature". I'm not sure I really like that. Soma is the body. Sarx is the flesh. I'm not a great Greek scholar but that's my memory. Your body is the physical. Your flesh is not just the physical it is the spiritual inclination toward resistance and rebellion and some translations will call it "sin nature". I don't think a believer has a sin nature. I believe we have a new heart by the power of the Holy Spirit so I wouldn't say that a Christian's essential nature is total depravity and nothing but sin but I would say there are conflicting desires within a Christian between their regenerated nature and the Holy Spirit and their new heart and their flesh which is still that, that seed of rebellion from Adam in them that wants to disobey.
That's why I think the key to overcoming the flesh is to nurture and feed the new desires out of a regenerated heart out of the power of the Holy Spirit and to tell people that, apart from jesus, ALL of your desires are going to be fleshly. With Jesus your DEEPEST desires will be for holiness but you'll be tempted by fleshly desires and the key is to nurture and feed the deepest desires for love and peace and goodness, and it's even telling people, because people will come in. I'll give you two examples, recently, in counseling appointments.
I met with one guy I explained this to him. I said "Your flesh wants to sin but if the spirit of God is in you, you have a new heart, you're regenerated [then] your deepest desire is gonna be to obey God." So I met with these two separate men and I sent them away to think about it. I said, "Come back to me and tell me what you're deepest desires are." Both were struggling with being very, very tempted to commit adultery their wives. Two men. And the one man came back, I said, "What is your deepest desire?" He said, "You know what? I do have fleshly desires to cheat on my wife, to commit adultery," and he said, "but my deepest desire is to love my wife, work out our very difficult problems, forgive her for sin she's committed against me, and fix this marriage." So, okay, so you're deepest desire's out of your regenerated heart, your new nature, you've been born again, all that Bible language. Let's feed that, nurture that, the Holy Spirit will bless that. You'll be tempted in your flesh with other desires but your deepest desires are from the Holy Spirit. He said, "Yeah, that's what I want." I said, "Okay." See, even in telling him, "That's your flesh. Don't feed it. Don't respond to it. Don't, don't yield to it. Don't feel that it's so powerful you have to give in to it. Go with your deepest desire."
The other man I met with, I said, "Okay. You've thought about it for some time. What is your deepest desire?" He said, "My deepest desire is to get a divorce and to commit adultery on my wife. THAT'S my deepest desire. That's what I want the most." I said, "Then you are not a Christian. You're not a Christian. If all you have is the flesh and your deepest desire is the flesh and your most passionate yearnings are for the flesh and you don't even feel bad about it, there's no conviction, you're not a Christian." And that shocked him because this guy had been in church for a long time, knows a lot of Bible. I said, "Okay, take a few weeks and think and pray about this. Do you really love Jesus? Not religion, not doctrine. Jesus. He's alive. God. Do you love him? Do you want him to change your heart? Do you want him to change your desires? Do you want to live in obedience to him or not?" He comes back, here's what he says, "No."
So he's divorced his wife and left town and he's having sex with women he's not married to. At the end of the day, apart from a regenerated nature with new desires all he's going to do is feed the flesh. Did I try to talk him out of it? Of course I did. Did I share the gospel with him? Completely. Did he care? Not at all. He's a non-Christian, all he has is the flesh. Apart from repentance and regeneration he has nothing but the flesh there's nothing I can do with the guy. There's nothing I can do with--I can't yell at him and here's what I've tried to do in counseling before--I've tried to yell at people. That didn't work. I tried to threaten them. That didn't work. I tried to plead with them. That didn't work. I tried to cry, manipulate them. That didn't work. I've tried to call them every day and make them do what I tell them. You know, assuming the Holy Spirit's on vacation and I need to pick up, you know, where he left off. That didn't work. I can threaten, push, cajole, manipulate people into obedience for a little while but apart from a heart change I can't really do anything. I can't. Just can't do it.
And so anymore I just ask the question, "What are your deepest desires? What do you really want?" If they say, "I want what Jesus wants", okay, you're a Christian. Let's work on that and let's work on you fighting the flesh internally and resisting the world externally. Let's resist internally let's reduce the temptation externally. Let's get you in a safe, loving community. YOu know, let's get the external temptation reduced. If all your friends are drinking buddies and you're an alcoholic, you're gonna need some new buddies. Right? If you're living with your boyfriend or girlfriend and your sin is sexual you're gonna need to move. Right? Let's reduce the external temptation. Let's fight the internal flesh. Let's go live a new life with Jesus. If they say, "Look. I just love sin. I wanna sin." You've shared the gospel. You prayed for God to change their heart but you can't make them good, moral, holy, obedient and complicit because the flesh can't do that. And it's very grievous. It's heartbreaking because you love people and you don't want them to ruin their life and you pray they come to their senses before they come to their end.
How do we respond to the flesh? Romans 6, on this issue, it tells us that we're no longer under the bondage of the flesh. If you want to read in the area of how to deal with the flesh I think that the best is John Owen, the great puritan, mortification of the flesh, the doctrine of mortification works out of Romans 6. Justin Taylor's got an updated translation. Every biblical counselor should be thoroughly aware of John Owen's theology of the mortification of the flesh. And the mortification of the flesh is death. Mortality, right? It's the same root word. Death. Put to death sin. Put to death the misdeeds of the body. Put to death the desires of the flesh. Too many people try to manage the flesh, try to weaken the flesh, try to control the flesh. No. Kill it. Put it to death because sin leads to death.
And there is no way to manage something that is bent on killing you. Either you put your sin to death or your sin puts you to death. That's the way it works. It kills marriages. It kills intimacy with God. It kills families. It kills generations. It can kill churches. It can kill friendships and eventually it kills people. Gluttony kills people. Addiction kills people. People eat until they die. People drink until they die. People smoke until they die. People snort until they die. And the real truth is either you kill your sin or your sin kills you. No more blame-shifting. No more excusing. No more minimalizing. Owen rightly argues out of Romans 6 "Kill it." and that's gotta be the goal. You kill sin so you can go live a new life as a worshipper of Jesus.
Other ways to respond to the flesh, Galatians 5:16 talks about walking in conscious relationship with God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit does indwell the believer, does empower the believer, does want the desires of the regenerated new heart and nature to be satisfied and fulfilled. And, again, greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. The spirit of God allows us to say "no" to ungodliness and worldliness and temptation. But people need to walk in conscious relationship with the Holy Spirit and this is not some bizzare mystical thing. This is spiritual disciplines like prayer, talking to God. Reading your Bible. Renewing your mind. Being in fellowship, being in community, being under spiritual authority that's godly and helpful and good. Pursuing counsel, repenting of sin, paying attention to the conscience that the Holy Spirit works through to convict you when you're in sin and error and folly. Ongoing relationship with God the Holy Spirit.
And number three, it said, put to death, mortify, Romans 8 says, sinful desires. Kill them. So again, external enemy, the world. All kinds of temptation. Internal enemy, the flesh. Use Thomas Brookes' analogy, look at the flesh as a hook and look at the world as various kinds of bait that Satan uses to hang on the hook to get you tempted to sin and to lead you to destruction.
Now the third form of spiritual warfare that we'll deal with after a break is the devil. There's the world, the flesh, the devil. They work together. It is impossible to be a good biblical counselor and not account for all three. Some only focus, or overly focus, on the world. The result is everything out there is very bad. Be separatistic, be sectarian. Separate yourself from the world. The sin's not in here (like James says. James says that evil desires come up from within us) those who overemphasize the world say, "No, no, no, no, no. The problem is the world. Don't watch TV. Don't have any friends. Go live on a farm. Just read your Bible all the time and you'll be fine because the problem's out there. So get as far away from the problem as you possibly can."
Well, the problem's not just out there. The world, to be sure, is fill with sin and temptation and folly and death; and Satan and demons are at work in the world, to be sure (but Loveless is right, the world is corporate flesh, people DO need to restrict. They DO need to say, "You know what? That television show, that website, that relationship those hobbies, those ways of thinking, those books, those teachers, they're not helpful. That's very worldly and it's confusing me, it's corrupting me, it's tempting me. It's feeding the lust of my eyes, the lust of my flesh and the boastful pride of my life." I do need to restrict my interaction with that which is worldly) that's true, but it's not the only answer.
And when you teach people that's only the world then they just feel like they're innocent victims. "Oh, the world made me sin. Oh, the world tempted me." So rather than repenting they just want to change the world. "Oh, we just shouldn't have that on TV because I watch it and it makes me sin." It abdicates people of their own moral accountability and responsibility if you only focus on the world.
Others only focus on the flesh. It's just you, it's all you, it's only you, it's always you and the truth is the vast majority of the time it is.
But, as we'll see in the next lecture, sometimes it's also your enemy and you really are being oppressed. You really are getting shot. You really are being attacked and it's not just in you it's coming upon you. Those who work so hard on sin and repentance as to neglect the effect of Satan and demons end up being very helpful to those who need to repent of sin but no help at all to those who are being demonically oppressed. Again, knowing how your enemy works. In the same way, if the world is attacking you, you defend yourself in one way. Your flesh, constantly, is at war against you and you defend yourself in another way. But if those are the only two categories you have and your enemy attacks you you continue to be destroyed by him then just getting more distance from the world and repenting of sin doesn't help when your enemy is beating you up. And too many Christians are more familiar with the first two kinds of demonic and spiritual warfare and they're less familiar with the third.