Every believer has three opponents who are constantly trying to derail our walk with Christ. Ephesians 2:1-3 identifies them by name. The first enemy is the course (or age) of this world. That is, the world system itself, and not the people in the world (Eph 6:12). The second is the prince of the power of the air, that is Satan – who roams the earth seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). Third is our very own flesh. Paul illustrates in Romans 7 the very real and present struggle we have with our flesh: while we have new life in the inner man, we still have our old flesh that wars with our spirit. Every believer faces this struggle until we are set free from the body of death (the flesh).
Sometimes we may think that we are impervious to spiritual attacks. Paul reminds us that such assumptions are exceedingly foolish: “Let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). We are all only a step away from failure, no matter how “mature” we may be. Further, Paul explains in the next verse that we are all subject to the same temptations and challenges, and that God provides those challenges (though He does not tempt anyone directly, Jam 1:13), but with those challenges He provides the way of escape. The way. What is that way? Again, in the following verse, Paul exhorts believers to flee from idolatry. Desiring anything above Him is idolatry. Paul’s prescription is clear. But what does that look like with respect to our three common opponents?
Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. How do we avoid falling to the world by becoming conformed to it? By being transformed by the renewing of our minds. How can we renew our minds? By being in His word (e.g., Col 3:1-4, Col 3:16).
Ephesians 6:10-18 reminds us that Satan and his forces are trying to destroy us, and that the way we stand firm against him is not some mystical incantations of binding Satan or claiming deliverance or any of that silliness. Instead, it is putting on the full armor of God. Notably all of the pieces of armor are defensive, except for one accessory – the only offensive weapon in the believer’s arsenal is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Galatians 5:16-25 explains that if we walk in the Spirit we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. As Ephesians 5:17-18 exhorts us, we should be filled (or controlled) by the Spirit. Of course, the Spirit of God already lives in us. These passages are not commanding us to get more of Him, rather they are telling us to be submitted to Him. How do we let the Spirit of God control us? By being students and doers of the word of the Spirit (Jam 1:22, 2 Pet 1:21). When we are walking in Him, the Spirit of God bears fruit in us (e.g., Gal 5:22-23)
We have three common enemies, and the instructions for how to stand firm against them include one common theme: they all revolve around the word of God. If we are in His word and doing His word, we can stand firm. If we aren’t, we can’t and won’t. It’s just that simple!
Jesus modeled these very principles for us when He was being tempted by Satan (Mt 4:1-11). Satan appealed to Jesus’s flesh in the first temptation (4:3). Jesus responded by quoting Scripture. Satan offered a direct temptation, that Jesus should prove Himself to Satan (4:6), even quoting Scripture to justify his temptation. The accuser was trying to place Jesus on the defensive, as he often does. Jesus responded with Scripture. Finally, Satan showed Jesus the world system and offered it to Him, if Jesus would only worship Satan. Again, Jesus responded with Scripture. The result? The devil left Him (4:11).
Jesus shows us, in this episode, that the means for standing firm against the world system, the devil, and the flesh is the right use of God’s word. All three opponents may even invoke God’s word in attempts to trip up the believer. This is one reason it is imperative that we are diligent to handle the word properly (2 Tim 2:15). We need to be knowledgeable and discerning in His word so that we are not tossed about by every wind of doctrine.
Just as Paul said (1 Cor 10:12-13), with the testing God brings the way of escape. Will we lean on that way, or will we try to come up with our own remedy? In answering that question, consider that the very first temptation of humanity included Satan misusing God’s word and offering an alternative means to be like God (Gen 3:1-5). If memory serves me, that didn’t work out too well for Adam and Eve. Hopefully we learn from history and avoid repeating it.