The world, the flesh and the Devil

Book 7 - Introduction

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If you are an average Christian in an average church then the likelihood is that you will have heard little or nothing about these three battles which every Christian faces against the world, the flesh and the Devil. That would not have been the case if you had lived 100, or even 50 years ago, when these subjects were still widely spoken about. Sadly, that is no longer the case and they have all gone right out of fashion. At any rate, they are now ignored in most churches in the Western world.

In this book I shall attempt to fill these gaps and redress the balance. My aim is to raise your awareness and to help you to fight these three battles successfully or, perhaps, to begin to fight them at all. That has to be said, because most Christians (in the West) are not even aware of the existence of these three battles, let alone actively engaged in fighting.

Let us briefly define what we mean by each of these terms and then consider why they matter. By ‘the flesh’ we mean our own sinful nature that we inherited from our first ancestor, Adam, as a result of the fall. It is also referred to in the Bible as the ‘old man’. That fallen flesh nature is present in all of us, even after we become Christians. It predisposes us to sin, to rebel and to transgress like a virus which has corrupted our ‘software’. The result is that we are drawn to sin as an addict is drawn to drugs.

Indeed, the only thing our flesh knows how to do is to sin. It can do nothing other than sin. That is because, even when we are at our best, we fall short of God’s perfect standards and can do nothing good. That is why we are told in Romans 8:8: “and they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (ASV). In short, anything done in, or through, the flesh is automatically sinful.

This first battle against the influence of our own flesh is not against some other person or force which is external to us. It is a civil war within our own self. That makes it probably our hardest battle. It is also the one that we least understand. It is effectively a contest within ourselves between the two sides of our own self. It is a contest between, on the one hand, our flesh/old man and, on the other hand, our spirit which is reborn within us when we are justified, i.e. made righteous. That is why we speak of being ‘born again’. Our spirit is the part of us that has been reborn, which is why the Bible also refers to it as the ‘new man’.

Our own spirit is dead in trespasses and sin until we respond to the gospel and are saved. Then it wakes up and becomes active, but only to find that it is co-habiting alongside our old man or flesh, with which it has nothing in common and can never agree. So, this battle within ourselves is between our own newly reborn, reawakened and sinless spirit and our own sinful flesh. They are both our own and are thus equally entitled to say that they are ‘us’.

These two sides of every Christian’s nature are polar opposites and can never want the same things or agree on anything. Our flesh only ever wants to sin, whereas our spirit or new man never sins and only ever wants to please God. These two sides of ourselves are therefore continuously at war within each of us. The only question is which of them will prevail, i.e. which will get its way and be in the driving seat, making the decisions and being our spokesman, at any given moment.

Unsurprisingly, if you aren’t even aware of the existence of this civil war within yourself, or if you only know of it vaguely and aren’t consciously engaged in fighting it, then you will inevitably be defeated. You can’t possibly win this battle against your flesh unless you know what is going on and are determined to fight. Once you realise that you can then start to make decisions, with your will, so as to take the side of your new man in opposing and resisting the old man.

That’s an important point. Our will is that part of each of us which makes the decisions. It is the part of us which decides, at any given moment, whether it is to be our new man or old man which gets its way. It is with our will that we decide which of these two sides of ourselves will speak for us and which of them we are going to listen to and be influenced by. So, moment by moment your will has to decide to which of these two it is going to hand the ‘microphone’. It can hand it to your old man/flesh and let that side of you be the spokesman. If so, you will sin. Or it can hand the microphone to your new man/spirit and let it say and do what is pleasing to God.

This is not a battle that can ever be won once and for all, with a single decisive victory which ends the whole war. If it was like that it would be a lot easier. We could make one big decision and get it all over with. Instead, it is a lifelong series of little, moment-by-moment decisions. Collectively, these choices determine the direction of your life and your effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, in God’s service.

This battle against our own flesh will only end when we die. At that point, and not before, we will be finally set free from the very presence of our old man. We will then no longer have a fallen, flesh nature at all. Sadly, until then, we must wage this war without ceasing and without giving any quarter to our flesh, because you will pay a high price for any concessions you make.

That is why the Bible speaks of us needing to ‘crucify the flesh’ or ‘put it to death’. The flesh is not something that can be taught or ‘house-trained’ or made to behave in a civilized way. It can never improve and will never alter its nature. Your only way forward is to deny it what it wants and to refuse to cooperate with it in any way. It is a long term war of attrition, in which you must starve your flesh and feed your spirit. I mean that both literally and metaphorically.

We starve our flesh by denying it what it wants and by not letting it have its own way. That involves many things, but it also includes literal fasting from food. Fasting is an excellent, and even an indispensable, way to weaken the flesh and reduce its power over us. At the same time we also need to feed our spirit on God’s Word so that it is strengthened in absolute terms and also relative to our flesh. It is also made more informed and thus better able to speak for us and represent us.

As for the ‘world’, we mean the values and priorities, and the whole way of thinking of the unsaved population of this planet and the ungodly way in which they operate. That’s because, they all think, say and do the opposite of what God wants a Christian to do. That’s simply because the world is made up of billions of people who are all simultaneously operating in accordance with the values, standards and priorities of their sinful flesh nature. They all have the same corrupted ‘software’. The world is rather like a huge flock of starlings which are flying in tight formation and all turning, in perfect unison, to left or right. If you have ever seen such a flock, it is as if they were all responding to the instructions of a choreographer.

The world is rather like that because, when you put all of that flesh together, you have an overall world system which operates in a remarkably consistent way. It constitutes and manifests the collective flesh nature of every sinner combined. Its consistency comes from the fact that they all have the same sinful, flesh nature. The problem is that, as we saw above, you and I still have that flesh nature too, even if we are real Christians.

The reason it is the same for the whole world as it is for us, is that we all inherited it from the same person, i.e. our common ancestor, Adam. That is why the pull of the world is so strong and why the world system is so appealing to us and has such a hold over us. It is almost like the gravitational pull of the planet itself. We are drawn to all the same sins to which the people around us are drawn because our old man wants us to fit in and be like the people around us.

The crucial difference between a Christian and an unsaved person is that the Christian has at least got a choice. He can choose to swim against the tide, or refuse to fly in formation, if he wants to. The unsaved person, being entirely controlled by his own flesh, and thus entirely worldly, has no such choice. All he can ever do is sin and so it is inevitable that he will join in with the world and imitate whatever it is doing.

Therefore, a Christian’s battle against the world, or this world system, or the values of this evil age, is essentially a struggle to avoid conforming to the values, standards and practices of the unbelieving, unsaved world around us. A Christian is effectively an alien or foreigner in this world, at least during the present ‘evil age’, which will continue until Jesus returns in bodily form to the Earth to take it over and rule it Himself. Then, after His return, this world will be transformed and will reflect His standards and operate His way. Until then, it most certainly does not. Indeed, it stands for the very opposite of what Jesus wants.

So, our objective in this second battle that we face is to do all we can not to fit in with the world around us. We are not to conform, compromise or be intimidated, and we are not be manipulated or seduced by worldly people or by what they stand for. Avoiding and resisting the influence of all of that involves bracing ourselves and being resolved to separate ourselves from this world’s values, and cling instead to what Jesus says is important. We are to be like a solitary starling which refuses to fly in formation and insists on choosing its own flight path rather than conform to the signals of those around it.

But this requires us to be willing to stand alone and to be seen as different, or even ridiculous, by those around us. We in the West, at this time in the history of the Church, are finding this very hard. The gravitational pull of the world seems to be stronger than it has ever been and many Christians find it very difficult not to fit in, accept current fashions and standards and just be like the people round us.

Conforming feels so much easier and is increasingly the choice that many of us are making. Thus the Church in the West is becoming harder and harder to distinguish from the world, because we so closely resemble it. That may be the case for the average Western church, but it does not have to be the case for you. It is still up to you to decide what you do, i.e. whether to conform to what this world does or to do what God wants.

Our third battle is against the Devil. We often use his name as a shorthand expression to include the Devil himself, but also all the demons who work under him. They were all angels in the distant past, until they rebelled against God and followed the Devil. At that time he was an archangel by the name of Lucifer. He is now called Satan, which means adversary or opponent. He is also called the Devil, which means slanderer or accuser. Those names are really just descriptive titles which reflect what he is like and what he does.

The problem, at least in the Western world, is that the majority of Christians either do not believe in the Devil or demons at all, or they do not believe that they are active in our lives or have any effect on us. Even amongst that minority of Christians who do believe that demons actively oppose us and influence us, there is still an element of unreality, such that demons don’t feel real and are not taken as seriously as they should be.

Such Christians accept, in theory, that they are being afflicted by demons, but only in some distant, nebulous way. It does not feel or seem real to them. In other words, they can bring themselves to accept that other people, far away or long ago, may have been affected by demons. However, at any given time, their own struggles, here and now, and the present problems of their own family and friends are assumed to have a purely natural explanation.

This inability or unwillingness to take the demons seriously suits the Devil perfectly. He is very pleased when we deny or ignore their existence and activities. That failure or refusal to believe in them, or to take them seriously, enables them to get on with what they want to do, unseen and unresisted. Then the Christians whom they are attacking, tempting, undermining and deceiving are oblivious to what is going on. They attribute all adverse events and circumstances either to random chance or to other natural causes.

Again, it is hardly surprising that such a Christian, who is doing nothing to resist the demons, and doesn’t even know or believe that there is anybody there to resist, will be defeated over and over again. Please refer to Book Nine in this series for a much fuller discussion of the Devil and his demons and how we can resist them.

My aim in this book is to alert you to each of these three battles, to set out the things we need to watch out for in each battle and to explain how we can have the victory or ‘overcome’. That brings us to one of God’s main objectives for every Christian. That is that we should learn how to be ‘overcomers’. Much is promised in the Bible to this group or category of Christians who learn how to overcome and are thus called ‘overcomers’.

There are many things which we are meant to overcome but foremost amongst them are these three battles that we are addressing here, i.e. against the world, the flesh and the Devil. They are the three principal theatres in our war, just as an earthly war is simultaneously fought on land, at sea and in the air. Likewise, all three aspects of our spiritual war are crucial and cannot be overlooked or neglected. Therefore God wants us to be wise, informed and discerning. He wants us to know what we are up against in each of these battles so that we can stand firm, resist effectively and be victorious.

There is much to be gained if we can become overcomers and win these battles, or at least some of them. It will have a profound effect on our own lives and also on the lives of our family and those we work with or care for. Moreover, our increased effectiveness will be richly rewarded and praised by Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ (See Book Four).

Accordingly, it would be difficult to overstate the benefits, advantages and rewards which will flow from learning how to take part in and succeed in these three battles. You won’t succeed overnight. On the contrary, it will take time and you will have to persist and be willing to accept many setbacks and defeats along the way, and learn from them.

Moreover, you cannot expect that these battles will only go on for a limited period of time. They will continue until you die, or are taken in the rapture. That is because neither the flesh, nor the world, nor the Devil have any intention whatsoever of going away or of surrendering. They all fight to the end and never surrender. We must therefore be realistic and prepare ourselves for a lifelong war on all three of these fronts.

But if you do join in and play your part in this war, and if you are willing to endure and persist, you will have victories. Those victories will also become larger and more frequent as time goes by and as you develop into a consistent, or at least a regular, overcomer.

Sean Kehoe
8 May 2014

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