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Your Most Persistent Enemy

Enemy

by Dennis Pollock

When asked who is the great foe of the Christian, the devil would come to mind for most people, and with good reason. He is called our adversary, one who walks about seeking whom he may devour. And yet we sometimes fail to realize that this malicious being is not omnipresent. He is really more of a captain of the forces of evil, but he is not someone who is able to simultaneously torment and tempt every single Christian throughout the world. He is our enemy for sure, but most of us have probably never run into him personally.

As bad as the devil is, we have a far more intimate enemy who lodges very, very close to us, so close that he stays with us day and night, taunting us, tempting us, mocking us, and doing everything in his power to make our lives miserable and drive us far from Christ. Just who is the enemy? Actually it is not so much a “who” as a "what." It is a nature - a terrible, evil, selfish, sinful, grasping, demanding nature that lies somewhere within our being. The Bible calls this nature the flesh, or sometimes uses the more colorful expression: “the old man.” At the heart of this nature is the concept of lust. It is unfortunate that lust has been almost universally relegated to the realm of sexuality, because in Biblical terms, lust comprises far more than mere sexual desire.

Biblically speaking, lust is simply strong desire for that which is unlawful for us. It can and often does involve sex, but it can also relate to an extra piece of cake, a television we cannot reasonably afford, a closet full of clothes we could not wear if we lived 200 years, a career for which we are not suited and in which there is no sensible hope of us succeeding, or simply taking any healthy, natural desire beyond the boundaries of righteousness. The first thing we need to consider is that the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is absolutely saturated with the idea of lust and how to overcome it. As you read the gospels and the epistles, you find the word and the concept everywhere, including:

  1. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. (Romans 6:12)
  2. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:14)
  3. ...as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance…. (1 Peter 1:14)

 

God has so much to say about lust in His word, it would seem that He considers this concept of great importance, not only to the ungodly, but even to His own children.

Our Natural State

As we look into the Biblical view of lust, we see that lust is the natural state of the unregenerate. The Bible says: “We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” (Ephesians 2:3). This is not suggesting that every person who has not found Christ is running from bed to bed, sleeping with every person available, in an orgy of unlicensed passion. Sinners come in many varieties. Some, you could probably say most, are sexually immoral and have little problem overstepping God’s sexual boundaries when the opportunity presents itself. But not all. But one thing that all non-Christians do have in common is that every last one of them pursues the desires that reign in their hearts, whether those desires are sexual, material, emotional, or psychological. And Paul writes to the believers and declares that this is exactly how we lived until Christ began to reign in our hearts. What we wanted, we pursued; what our instincts and natural desires demanded, we eagerly acquiesced, and did our best to satisfy the restless, insistent, selfish nature that ruled us with an iron hand. Paul writes to Titus: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). Lusts didn’t merely exist within us; we served our lusts willingly, eagerly, and devotedly.

Lust and the World

Because lust is the primary driving force in the lives of all those who do not possess the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, it follows that lust, the powerful tendency to serve and follow the overflowing unlawful desires of the flesh, makes up the very essence of the world around us. The Bible speaks of “the world” as being the sum total of the culture, ways, and habits of the ungodly people who have always made up the majority of the inhabitants of our planet. We are told to have nothing to do with “the world,” and specifically to “love not the world.” This does not mean that we isolate ourselves from the people of the world; if we did that no evangelism would go on, and God’s program of redemption would come to a screeching halt. But we who belong to Jesus cannot indulge ourselves in the ungodly pleasures, pursuits, and ways of those who have no use for righteousness, and no place for Jesus in their lives and hearts.

The Scriptures tell us: “For all that is in the world --- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life --- is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). According to John, the world is made up of three components: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and pride. This means that ⅔ of what makes up the “the world” which God so thoroughly condemns has to do with lust. Powerful, demanding, insistent, ungodly desires reign in our world and in the lives of those who do not have God. Solve the lust problem and you solve the problem of the world. Of course we are not going to do away with the wickedness and lusts of the world, but we can see victory in our individual lives. Peter writes:

...by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:4)

According to Peter all the corruption in the world finds its life and makes its demands through lust. In other words, we are evil because we want to be evil, and we want this because there is something within us, a selfish, demanding, controlling nature which drives our decisions, motivates our actions, and spoils our relationships.

Lust and the Christian

Craving dessert

It would be wonderful to be able to tell you that once you have been born again, you will never again have to deal with this terrible force called lust. Your life will be filled with righteous desires, and urges to do wrong, to possess that which is unlawful, to behave immorally, and live selfishly will never trouble you again. There is some truth to that, but not too much. You will indeed be given a source of righteous desires. A new nature is given the believer, and it comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit. God says in Ezekiel: “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh… (Ezekiel 11:19).

We receive a new nature, a new passion which moves us to an unselfish, loving, generous, gentle, patient life. In those first days in Christ we are often so thrilled at what God has done, and we so enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it may seem as though that old, sinful nature has evaporated entirely. But alas, in a short time we discover a horrible truth - the old nature is still with us. We find ourselves torn between our new righteous desires coming straight from the heart of God, and some of the old sinful desires we’ve known and followed all our lives. We suddenly realize that our old enemy, the flesh, has not left us after all. He is still around and is still a force to be reckoned with.

We see the struggle in simple, little things and in big, potentially life-shattering temptations. Jesus made the process of saying no to the unlawful urges of this sinful nature a major prerequisite for discipleship, saying, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). To deny ourselves is to deny our flesh - that ungodly conglomeration of lusts, passions, and sinful instincts which dominate sinners, and can rule over Christians as well.

Sexual lust is perhaps the most blatant of the lusts of the flesh. The desire for sexual expression is one of the most potent and difficult to control of all human passions, particularly among males. If the opportunities were available, and any normal man were to heed all the sexual urges he feels, from his teens to his old age, he would end up sleeping with hundreds of women, and breaking the laws of God continually. Some who are of a homosexual bent and yield freely and enthusiastically to their passions justify their sins with the idea: “If I feel it, I must obey it and be true to myself.” But the Christian male learns to say no, following the word of God which tells him, “Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

Some lusts come in much more innocuous forms. Allow me to give you a personal example. Ever since my childhood I have been a lover of breakfast cereals. It hardly matters what brand, color, or shape. I almost would rather eat cereal than steaks, pancakes, or just about any dessert. When I began having blood sugar problems, I realized that cereal was far from the ideal food for me. By using low carb milk and limiting myself to the cereals with the most fiber and the least carbs I found just a couple of brands that worked for me - but only if I eat not quite a full bowl. I normally eat a few peanuts to create a meal which nearly fills me up, but if I had my way, I would far rather be eating about three bowls of cereal, as I used to do in the old days. But of course I can’t do this. For me to enjoy even two full bowls of cereal would be a sin against my body. In this, and a thousand other things, I am required to say no to self and yes to Christ and to righteousness, and embrace self-control. The Bible tells us that he who is Christ’s should “no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).

This is Christianity 101; this is what it means to be a disciple and a follower of Jesus Christ. The good news is that it is possible, and it is not quite as painful as it sounds. Jesus provides His people the power to choose the righteous desires and deny the ungodly ones through the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures exhort us: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). The answer to the flesh is the Spirit. The answer to corrupt, foul, selfish, sinful desires is a set of godly, righteous, pure, holy desires. And these are given us the moment we are born again, but we must learn to “walk in the Spirit” so that these desires rule and motivate us rather than our former ones.

The power for victory is in the cross of Jesus Christ. At the cross Jesus broke the power of sinful passions and lusts which rule humanity. The flesh does not go away when we are saved, but as we put our trust in Jesus, as we abide in Him, walk closely to Him, and stay filled with the Holy Spirit, we find the power to say no to our flesh again and again. No matter how many times it rises up and makes its illicit demands, we can forbid and deny it through Jesus Christ our Lord, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with (neutralized, made ineffective), that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (1 John 2:17).

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