The Christian is in a battle – against an enemy with highly organized strategies, tactics, and battle plans. Yet he often approaches the battle unprepared – no plans, no tactics, no strategy – he just starts swinging.
Two factors are essential in battle: power and strategy. You can’t win without power, but you must also have a plan.
Imagine an admiral on a battleship. The ship is attacked from the air, and he gives the order: “Throw over the depth charges.” He would be defeated – not by lack of power, but by failure in strategy because depth charges are designed to destroy submarines, not airplanes.
Now that may sound ridiculous, but when it comes to fighting temptation, most of us do things just as ridiculous nearly every day. We fight when we should run and run when we should fight and wonder why we are consistently defeated.
When entering a battle, a good general wants to know two things: his enemy and himself.
Know Your Enemy
Scripture teaches that there is one personal, supernatural spirit-being known as the devil, or Satan. He was originally a high angelic being with top responsibilities in heaven.
But he tried to overthrow God’s government, and God kicked him out. In Satan’s attempted takeover, about a third of the angelic hosts joined him and were thrown out as well. These are fallen angels, or demons.
Satan is the ultimate source of evil and our ultimate enemy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he attacks us personally. When we say he attacks us, it’s most likely through one of the millions of demons that do his dirty work.
Satan also influences us through two other channels: the world and the flesh.
The word “world” has various meanings in Scripture. However, the world that is our enemy is described in 1 John 2:15, where it says,
- “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
- And in Romans 12:2, it says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.”
- And in James 4:4, it says, “Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.”
Here is a hostile world – the world of unsaved men and the society, culture, and value system they have established that is anti-God and opposed to God’s values, goals, and commands.
The most subtle temptations we face are from the world. Most of the world’s temptations are not necessarily to things illegal or immoral, but to things subtly devastating to our spiritual welfare.
Occasionally in my Sunday school class for young married couples, I notice a young couple, zealous for the Lord, suddenly missing from class. In contacting them, I find they have purchased a new home.
There is nothing wrong with having a new home. But in caring for the many responsibilities that go with home ownership, they had no time left for church, maybe not even for God. A perfectly moral, legitimate thing of the world was affecting their spiritual well-being.
1 Timothy 6:10 says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
Satan uses the lures of the world to draw us away from God.
The word “flesh” is also used a number of ways in the Bible. Sometimes it means the material body; sometimes humanity.
This enemy is described in Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (NKJV).
The flesh is also called the “old self” in Romans 6:6, and the “sinful nature” in Romans 7-8. It is our inborn selfishness and rebellion, inherited ultimately from the fallen, rebellious Adam, who sired a race of sons and daughters born in his likeness and image (see Gen. 5:3).
The flesh (our sinful nature) is the enemy inside – a traitor within the ranks, through which Satan can operate.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, we find this prayer: “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The world often tells us that a human being is simply a body, a biological machine. God says that the body is the house in which the person lives and operates, and that the real person is non-material.
We can describe the essence of a person as spirit and soul. Scripture often uses them synonymously. Yet in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, we find an obvious distinction.
Sometimes the word “soul” means the whole person. But in this specialized sense, we will use it to mean the self-consciousness, the capacity that makes you aware of yourself in relationship to your environment.
Self-consciousness is tied closely to pride, or ego. If you analyze your temptations, you’ll find many of them directed at this aspect of your personality.
Man was created to be aware not only of himself, but also of God. The word “spirit” indicates our “God-consciousness”.
This consciousness is unique to man. And wherever you find man, unless he has been deliberately trained otherwise, you will find him trying to worship something.
The body is the material – the meat, the bones, the eyeballs. Some temptations are directed right at the biological drives of the body, and we are all vulnerable in that area.
Know Your Temptation
Knowing that enemy attacks will come from one of three sources: the devil, the world, or the flesh and knowing that the attacks will be against one of three areas: the spirit, the soul, or the body can help us fight temptation.
A direct attack of the devil will usually be to your spirit – your God-consciousness. Satan tempts us to doubt God’s Word, the Bible, God’s faithfulness, and/or our salvation.
The world generally attacks your soul – your ego, or self-consciousness. Do you want money and the things money will buy, such as a luxury car, an elaborate house, status, and/or prestige? You’ll find you want these things so people will notice you; that’s ego.
The flesh (your sin nature) attacks your body’s appetites, promoting you to indulge them beyond legitimate limits.
These are the three basic types of temptation. I call them the ABCs of temptation:
- Type A: The Devil attacks your God-consciousness, or spirit.
- Type B: The world attacks your self-consciousness, or soul.
- Type C: The flesh/sin nature attacks your bodily drives.
Plan Your Strategy
Armed with this information, you can plan your strategy. When you are being tempted, first determine the type.
Ask, “What is under attack? If it’s your biological drive, then it’s a Type C temptation, coming from the flesh. If it’s your ego, or pride, then it’s Type B, coming from the world.
This analysis sounds awkward, but it’s crucial. In time, it can become almost automatic.
For each type of temptation, you will need to use a different strategy of resistance.
Type A – is a direct demonic attack upon your God-consciousness.
For this temptation, note James 4:7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
This is the way Jesus handled Satan’s attacks. Each time Satan tempted Him, Jesus used/quoted appropriate Scripture in the area being tempted in, by saying “It is written” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).
With Type A, we are to resist in the power of the Spirit, but using the Word of God. For instance, if Satan tries to tell a new Christian that he is not saved, refer Satan to a passage like John 5:24, which states clearly that all who believe in Christ have everlasting life.
To handle this kind of temptation, you must know your Bible. A Marine becomes so proficient with his rifle, he can take it apart and put it back together blindfolded. Likewise, it is essential that you memorize Scripture if you expect to have it available when temptation comes.
David said, “I have hidden Your word in my heart (mind) that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). The more of God’s Word you hide in your heart, the better you will be prepared to deal with Type A temptation.
Type B – is the world attacking your ego.
Over your lifetime, this temptation will probably be the most prominent. We live in a highly materialistic society, and we each succumb in different ways.
How do you handle that temptation? You could get all your money together, head for the nearest department store or car dealer, and try to fight it. But that would be devastating.
1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
If your love for God grows cold, the world will slip into the vacuum. If you find yourself loving the world inordinately, that is a symptom of a deeper problem. Don’t fight the symptom; let it warn you that something has happened to your love for God.
If the oil light comes on in my car, I can get a hammer and smash it. But that wouldn’t solve anything. The light is warning me that my engine needs oil.
The key to successful Christian living is maintaining your love relationship with God. If that begins to slip, you will begin to love the things of this world: status, clothes, cars, security, money.
If you find yourself in that condition, let it be a warning. Check out your love for God. Get alone with God; rekindle your love for Him. The more you love God, the less important worldly things will become.
Type C – is the flesh (sin nature) attacking the appetites of your bodily drives.
Our culture surrounds us with sexual temptations. Take note of all the ads using sex: you’ll find everything from toasters to toothpaste.
Whenever I counsel young people on this subject, I hear the same story. The man starts out, “I’ve been dating Suzy Smith for some weeks, and we’re being sexually tempted.”
I say, “What else is new? If you weren’t, there would probably be something wrong with you.”
He goes on to say, “We have a biology class together, so tonight we’re going to gather algae off the rocks in Newport Beach. But if we get tempted down there on that lonely, romantic beach, we’ve decided we’re going to kneel down and pray and ask God to help us fight this thing.”
Now that sounds pious/spiritual, but it’s like sticking your head in a lion’s mouth and asking God to keep it from biting you. God is very specific about how to handle sexual temptation.
Whenever the Bible talks about avoiding sexual sin, it offers the same strategy:
- “Flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22).
- “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
You are not told to fight, but to flee. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39), did he suggest they pray? No, he ran!
There are different ways to run. Sometimes, like Joseph, you have to run with your feet. More often you will need to run from the situation.
If you are having problems with sexual temptation in a dating relationship, don’t head for a rendezvous where the two of you can be alone. Go to places with bright lights and lots of people. Nothing is going to happen to you at a baseball game with thousands of people around. You are running from the situation.
You can use this tactic with any biological drive.
I don’t try to fight my appetite for doughnuts. If I stand outside a bakery looking in at the doughnuts, I end up going in and stuffing myself. So I stay away from temptation as much as possible.
With these few skills you can wage an effective war:
- A. When tempted by the devil to doubt your God-consciousness, resist with the Word.
- B. When tempted by the world to succumb to your ego, check out your love for God.
- C. When tempted by the flesh/sin nature to misuse your biological drives of the body, run.
Carry out these tactics in the power of the Holy Spirit, and start winning the temptation war!
Dr. Curtis C. Mitchell
This article is also available in: Spanish
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