By Doug Redford
The Bible begins with God’s creative activity, including a paradise that was shattered when the first man and woman yielded to temptation. It ends with the tempter, Satan, condemned to “the lake of burning sulfur” to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). In between those points is his war with God throughout the history of redemption, attempting to thwart Heaven’s plan and promote as much misery and chaos as possible.
As Christians we are part of this war of the worlds. We begin as new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), people who belong to the kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36) who are intended by God’s design to dwell with him forever. But reaching that point is not automatic. In fact Satan desires to do to us exactly what he did to Adam and Eve: separate us from God and keep us from experiencing the paradise God has created for us.
The Bible is quite clear about who Satan is. It is also clear that he can be beaten—but only with divine help. We are told that God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). This “everything we need” includes the resources necessary to confront temptation and overcome the tempter. John told us that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). But how do we make that greatness real in our everyday dealings with the enemy?
Take the enemy seriously.
Amidst the busyness and stress of daily living, we can be lulled into forgetting that we are engaged daily in the “spiritual warfare” described by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-18 (where he presents the Christian’s armor piece by piece). Jesus remains the same, as Hebrews 13:8 describes, but so does Satan. Lying is still the language in which he is most fluent (John 8:44). We must take him seriously, because he takes us seriously.
Complacency or apathy toward Satan is one of his greatest tools. Paul warned against this in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Peter illustrated this danger with his bold assertion that he would never deny Jesus, followed only hours later by bitter tears of disappointment. When Peter referred to the devil as a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), he knew that truth all too well.
Mind your mind.
The mind or heart (which in Scripture often includes the mind) or what Dallas Willard called the “innermost thoughts, feelings, and intentions” (The Divine Conspiracy) is where the war of the worlds must be deliberately waged and where it is perhaps easiest for Christians to become careless. This is why Proverbs 4:23 issued this warning: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Paul told the Corinthians that “though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does” (2 Corinthians 10:3). The weaponry he employed was divine in nature; the goal is to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (v. 5). This was what Paul desired to do in Corinth—a city renowned for its immorality. Must it not be the same goal for today’s believer living in a culture steeped in immorality?
Many of us surrender the discipline of the mind (or at least fail to give it priority) so that while our actions may not be suspect, neither are we thinking in a direction that leads “every thought” toward being taken captive to Jesus. Too often idle time becomes idol time, during which we allow our minds to drift into areas that dull our overall spiritual sharpness.
Maintain the spiritual disciplines.
Some may consider prayer, Bible study, and church attendance as pat answers to any questions about spiritual growth. Certainly these practices should not be treated as though they were some sort of magic formula for spiritual growth. But neither should their importance be diminished or compromised. Most likely we simply need to practice them better or apply them more directly to the issues with which we are struggling.
Jesus remains our best example in these areas. Reading the Gospels makes clear how much of a priority prayer was for him. So impressed were the disciples by Jesus’ prayer life that they asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). (It is worth asking how many people we know of whom we would ask for assistance in prayer or whether anyone has ever asked us for such guidance.)
Many have observed that Jesus’ response to Satan when tempted by him was, in each case, the quoting of Scripture. Without it we leave ourselves vulnerable. Paul recognized this when he referred to God’s Word as “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17).
In the matter of church attendance, the writer of Hebrews warns against “giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25). The times of meeting should be used for “encouraging one another.” Such encouragement needs to include confronting the areas where we struggle with the enemy and seeking the support and accountability of trusted friends in Christ. Jesus told Peter of his specific prayers for him during the coming “sifting” by Satan, “that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31, 32). Have we ever prayed for someone, not only with a concern for that person’s physical problems, but also for his or her faith to remain strong? Have we ever asked someone else to pray for us with that same concern in mind?
Remain intentionally faithful.
This is why the Bible includes such specific commands as, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), which Joseph in the Old Testament illustrated (Genesis 39:11, 12). But that is not all; we must also pursue godly qualities (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). David sadly illustrated the reverse; he failed to flee immorality, while pursuing the gratification of his lust. And this sad account began because David was not faithful to the duties expected of him as a king. Instead of engaging in battle “at the time when kings go off to war,” he remained behind in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1-5). The rest is a part of Old Testament history from which we must certainly take warning.
While Satan is not specifically mentioned in the account of David’s sin with Bathsheba and his efforts to conceal his wrongdoing, no doubt the tempter took great delight in watching a “man after God’s own heart” go after another man’s wife. How many of us have placed ourselves in vulnerable positions before Satan because we were not faithful to the Lord in the daily routine of living?
“Do not give the devil a foothold,” Paul said in Ephesians 4:27. Obedience to this command requires that we know both our enemy and ourselves and where we are most likely to fall prey to his seductions. The writer of Hebrews urged us to throw off “the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). He did not specify what this sin is, which may have been intentional. That entangling sin can vary from person to person; it is up to each Christian to know where he or she is most easily thrown off course and be appropriately vigilant.
It’s more than cliché.
This advice may seem somewhat clichéd or trite to some. They may think, This is no different from what I’ve heard or read before. But, as noted earlier, there is a sense in which Satan and his tactics have not changed over the years. He still specializes in lies, and the only way to counter lies is with truth. The only sources of absolute truth and reliable help concerning Satan are the written Word of God, the Bible, and the living Word of God, Jesus. It is certainly worth noting that the writer of Hebrews, addressing Christians who were in danger of perishing through their disobedience, held up both the Word of God and Jesus our “great high priest” as resources of spiritual strength (Hebrews 4:11-16).
There is nothing wrong with hearing truth repeated, as Peter noted (2 Peter 1:12-15). Let’s make sure that what we think is overused does not become under-applied in our personal war of the worlds.
Doug Redford is a professor at Cincinnati Christian University and freelance writer in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Changing Face of Temptation
In 2013 Barna surveyed Americans to see what temptations they most commonly deal with. Some were age-old, classic temptations:
• 55 percent are tempted to eat too much
• 44 percent are tempted to spend too much money
The survey also found some emerging temptations:
• 44 percent are tempted to spend too much time on media
• 11 percent are tempted to “go off” on someone through text messaging or email
Not surprisingly temptations change along gender and generational lines:
• 28 percent of men are tempted to view pornography online, as opposed to 8 percent of women
• 68 percent of women are tempted by worry, as opposed to 50 percent of men
Temptation generally decreases with age, according to the survey. The only categories where Busters (born 1965-1983) or Boomers (born 1946-1964) are tempted more than Millennials (born 1984-2002) are worrying and eating too much. Elders (born 1945 or earlier), whose most common temptation is eating too much, don’t lead in any category.
A whopping 50 percent of respondents aren’t sure why they give in to temptation, and of those who try to resist, the most common method (18 percent) is prayer.