Tag Archives: Mortification of Sin

Killing Sin at the Desire Level

 

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Galatians 5:16-17

One of the primary strategies for killing sin (Romans 8:13), perhaps the only real legitimate, successful way, is to attack it on the level of desire.  This puts engaging sin squarely on the battlefield of the heart, rather than a battlefield of the hands (see Matthew 5:29-30).  It becomes then much more a matter of properly setting the affections on things above rather than simply exercising will power over deeds.  The latter can only happen properly when the former is given priority.

In the passage above, the divinely inspired pen of the Apostle is instructing us in the way that these sinful desires operate while also  providing for us the means by which to kill them, namely by walking in the Spirit.

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?  How does one maintain that walk?  Paul does not offer an explanation here, and perhaps for good reason so that we simply won’t create a to-do list.  However, by combing through Scriptures, we may arrive at a helpful strategy to keeping in-step with the Spirit.

First, by engaging the heart and mind in the Word of God.  The Psalmist, who knew a thing or too about fighting sin, informs us that a young man may keep his way pure by guarding it according to the word of God.  He follows this thought with, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11  Additionally, in Psalm 37:31 we read, “The law of God is in his (the righteous’) heart; his steps do not slip.”

Secondly, by meditating on the Word of God.  We must note that it is insufficient to simply read the Word of God.  Rather Scripture must be contemplated, ruminated upon, churned over in the belly of the mind until it has been properly digested sending the spiritual nutrients throughout the soul.  In the previously mentioned Psalm 119, we find no less than 6 mentions of the word “meditate”.  This may be summarized in Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”  The classic passage for the example and consistency of meditation by the godly is the familiar Psalm 1:2, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Third, by offering continual prayer.  The apostle gives us the simple directive for continual prayer in 1 Thess. 5:17 with three little words,pray without ceasing“.  How can one pray without ceasing?  This isn’t instructing us to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in prayer to the neglect of life and duty.  Rather the implication is to have a heart prepared constantly for prayer and a tendency to turn to God in prayer on every occasion.  It may be easy to go through the motions in Scripture reading, doubtful for meditation, but fundamentally impossible to go through the motions in having an attitude of continual prayer.  Again, this is not simply 5-10 minutes in prayer, in which the mind may be easily derailed or where a rote prayer is offered.  We are talking about a spiritual frame in which the mind awakes to prayer, be it thankfulness or praise, goes throughout the day in prayer, and falls asleep at night on the pillow of prayer.  It simply cannot be faked, cannot be counterfeited, and it belongs only to the truly regenerate.  In fact, it may be the best gauge for determining whether one is maintaining a consistent walk in the Spirit and might well be the first to disappear should that walk slow or come to a stop.

Fourth, through the fellowship with other believers.  One of the detriments to the “structure” of the contemporary church is that we have come to treat it as a weekly obligation.  Even those who still hold to Sunday and Wednesday evening services neglect the fundamental meaning of ekklesia and the pattern that the early church provided, namely the daily or habitual interaction of “one-anothering” that occurred much like that within an immediate family as opposed to 3rd-cousins at a dreaded family reunion.  Hebrews 10:24-25 is instructive here, 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Habitual, routine, stirring up, meeting together, encouraging one another.

There could be additions to this, but the objective is clear, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  It is not “may”, nor is it “could be possible”, but “will not” gratify.

Yet the Apostle presses further to define the motive of these desires by stating their opposition, indeed that they war against the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit that that has renewed the inner man through the power of regeneration.  The contrast is not between the Holy Spirit (as used in verse 16) strictly speaking, but between the new nature brought about by the Spirit and the old nature.  Sometimes called the new man and the old man, i.e. the spirit vs. the flesh.  The Spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit.  Literally they are hostile adversaries.

Finally, notice the purpose of this hostility, “to keep you from doing the things you want to do“.  I’ve understood this before to mean that the flesh keeps the spirit (see earlier) from doing what it wants, but that is not the natural flow of the passage and only half of the meaning.  It is actually stating that the flesh keeps the spirit from doing what it wants and the spirit keeps the flesh from doing what it wants.  There is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia taking place within believers.  A tension so to speak, however not one of neutrality.  If left unattended, the spirit will give way to the flesh.  Paul does not leave an option open to stand still in the Spirit, but to walk in the Spirit, an ongoing, lifelong action.

Let’s close with a word from Charles Spurgeon on this passage,

“The enemy is so securely entrenched within us that he can never be driven out while we are in this body: but although we are closely beset, and often in sore conflict, we have an Almighty helper, even Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, who is ever with us, and who assures us that we shall eventually come off more than conquerors through him.  With such assistance the newborn nature is more than a match for its foes.  Are you fighting with the adversary today?  Are Satan, the world, and the flesh, all against you?  Be not discouraged nor dismayed.  Fight on!  For God himself is with you; Jehovah Nissi is your banner, and Jehovah Rophi is the healer of your wounds.  Fear not, you shall overcome, for who can defeat Omnipotence?  Fight on, looking unto Jesus, and though long and stern be the conflict, sweet will be the victory, and glorious the promised reward.”

 

The Fabian Strategy of Satan

 

Awhile back, we looked at the petition from the “Lord’s Prayer” to deliver us from the evil [one] and briefly touched on the fact that Satan, like a roaring lion, is prowling around seeking whom he may devour.  In a very real sense, Satan is actively pursuing mankind in order to leave them blind or lead them from the light into darkness, even if this be temporary for the true child of God.

Thus we have come to consider a method that our enemy uses in assaulting the saints of God.  Keep in mind too, that when we say Satan, it may not mean a direct attack from the singular figure of evil, as in the Garden of Eden or the Wilderness of Christ, but may and most often does include some other demonic personage serving the will of his master.  Thanks be to God that the head of Satan was crushed at the cross of Christ, nevertheless our opponent is very real and very active.  In this particular post, we’ll look at the Fabian Strategy of Satan to see how that ancient serpent, the Devil, employs an old military strategy in one of his many attacks on the children of God.

The Fabian Strategy was a military idea implemented by Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (280 – 208 BC), or Fabius Maximus, sometimes simply Maximus for short.  He was arguably one of the greatest generals in the Roman Empire and is often credited with being the father of guerrilla warfare.  In perhaps the most famous war of all time, the Punic War, Rome, led by Fabius prepared to battle against the superior Carthaginians, led by Hannibal.

Recognizing his army was outpowered, Fabius employed his now famous Fabian strategy in which he wore down his enemy by avoiding any “pitched battles or frontal assaults” and instead relied on a war of attrition.  As this strategy unfolds, it calls on the proponent to harass his opposition through smaller skirmishes that cause attrition, disrupt supplies, and effect morale largely believing that time is on their side to wear down their opponent (see wikipedia article).  How then does Satan employ this strategy against the saints of God?

Before we start it’s important to note that we’re not inserting the Fabian Strategy into Scripture, simply observing the methods of our enemy and finding a fitting description of them to better help us to understand the war in which we are engaged.

First, this strategy of wearing us down is extremely dangerous and extremely effective because it avoids many of the frontal assaults that the believer may be more aware of in his or her battle against sin.  For example, if a person knows that a particular location, we’ll call it the sin store, however make the necessary application in your own case, causes him or her to sin, obviously they would stay out of that location, simple enough.

However, through means of the Fabian Strategy, the devil would not tempt a person towards that location, but would instead wear them down physically, mentally, and spiritually, over time, perhaps even to the point of cutting off all other avenues leaving the only opening that travels past the “sin store”,  inevitably leading to sin.  At this point, you are weakened and worn down, unable to avoid what would have normally been a very weak temptation had it occurred as a frontal assault.

As alluded to, primarily Satan wears us down physically, mentally, and spiritually and sometimes in that order.  Physically this may come by way of a variety of means, sometimes through illness, sometimes through lack of sleep, sometimes simply through the exhaustion of the day.  He need not bring these on directly, but may, as in the case of Job.  Or, he may simply take advantage of an opportunity of these weakness that is already preexisting.

Obviously, physical exhaustion lessens mental alertness, which in turn makes one more susceptible to temptations.  Consider the example of our Lord, who after 40 days of fasting in the wilderness was left no doubt, weak, tired, hungry, and physically exposed.  Satan sought opportunity in this weakness to strike.  Take also for instance the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane with our Lord and His instruction upon finding them asleep to “watch and pray.  That you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40

Against this war of attrition in physical strength, a greater reliance on the strength of God will be necessary.  Consider our Lord’s response to Satan with the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, from our example cited above.  Too often, we become comfortable and self-reliant, either in our own gifts, strengths, even our material possessions.  Reconsider Job, who had his material possessions and physical strength taken away, yet Scripture affirms for us that Job did not sin with his lips (Job 1:22, 2:10).  When these comforts evaporate, we are left to return to the fountain’s source, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”  Ephesians 6:10  In this alien strength, pray and grab one verse at a time to hold onto.  Volume of reading, either Scripture or godly books will not be as helpful here, but could  actually hinder progress in the battle if one is not careful.  Become a master of one verse and use it acutely, praying until you can’t.

Second, the Fabian Strategy, having plundered our physical resources shifts to the attack of morale, sometimes via the form of lacking mental alertness.  This may come in the form of discouragement from the physical weakness, mental fogginess, or simply resorting to vegging out.  In our society, we are perhaps more prone to this than any other time in history and we have a lot of devices and opportunity to do so.  After running the daily rat-race, we can be given to extended periods of vegging, be it in our consumption of social media, binging on-demand videos, video games, shopping, etc. all to make us feel better in a flesh-led effort to recharge our physically weak batteries as it were.  This simply opens up further opportunity for the devices of Satan.

The key opposition against this is to reengage the mind upon the word of God.  Meditation can functionally serve the same purpose that many hope to gain by turning to vegging out by essentially calming and refocusing the mind.  Here of course, we are talking about biblical meditation and not that which accompanies yoga, transcendental meditation, or other ungodly forms of mind emptying.

Finally, if both physical and mental strength be lacking in any substantial quantity, the spirit is essentially left exposed in the battle against the flesh, the world, and the devil.  Think again on Matthew 26:40 cited above, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”  The two are diametrically opposed and without diligence, the flesh can sometimes gain the upper-hand on the spirit quite easily, Galatians 5:17.  Here then the Fabian Strategy of Satan often employs the temptation to lesser sins over those of more scandalous or outlandish nature all in an effort to subvert the spirit’s resistance against the flesh.

Beaten down physically, sapped of mental alertness, and blind to the peccadillos of life, the Fabian Strategy has subtlety given Satan the upper-hand often without us being none the wiser.  This of course may happen over a long period of time to further heighten our drowsiness until he makes an attempt to strike a mortal blow.

Very rarely to believers fall into sin upon the first hints of a frontal assault.  Little by little the enemy pecks away much like water dripping on a mighty granite boulder until finally a crack appears, when heat is applied the entire rock is in danger of exploding.  Be alert and sober, dear Christians.  Our enemy, the devil often has more success in lulling us to sleep, via the Fabian strategy, than an all out, in your face assault.  Resist him and he will flee from you. James 4:7

Discontentment and Temptation

 

One of the strategies for an effective battle against sin is to recognize how sin operates; first in general and then in particular within and around you. In military terms, this is akin to knowing your enemy. A particular highway through which sin will attempt to march its troops is the highway of discontentment. Perhaps there is no greater avenue for sin to enter the heart than through a person’s distorted desires, which have at their root, discontentment. The Apostle James writes, “but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:14-15 I’ve written elsewhere that my understanding of this passage is that desire conceives with temptation to give birth sin. I will argue here that the bedroom for that conception is discontentment.

In his masterful treatise on contentment, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs builds the substance of his exposition on Philippians 4:11 which reads, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”. While his book is commendable on many levels, there is one particular area that I would like to highlight, namely the relationship between contentment and temptation, particularly as it relates to avoiding sin.

After many excellent and noteworthy comments on describing contentment, its mystery and how Christ teaches contentment, Burroughs arrives at his discussion on “The Excellence of Contentment.” In this chapter, one particular quality of contentment caught my attention and went along way in expressing some thoughts concerning temptation and contentment that had been churning in my mind. Here he writes,

“Contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations. Oh, the temptations that men of discontented spirits are subject to!”[1]

There is much to contemplate in this statement not the least of which is the avenue that discontentment paves into the heart, upon which temptation may freely travel.

A survey of biblical examples of sin would lead one to see that every instance of sin has as its root, discontentment. Adam and Eve were discontent with the position in the Garden that God had given them. They fell for the lie that Satan presented, showing the bait, yet hiding the hook, because they were discontent. David was discontent with all that God had blessed him with; prosperity, a kingdom, a wife, yet as he walked around on his rooftop discontentment joined with temptation and the rest is the sad history of a great king and man after God’s own heart. Solomon was discontent with just one wife. Israel was discontent with worshiping God alone and adopted the practices of the surrounding nations. Scripture is replete with examples and we cannot forget our own experiences.

Discontentment at its heart is idolatry. It resists the Lordship and Authority of Almighty God and seeks to set self on the throne in place of the King. Covetousness, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, stealing, material gain, pride, indulgence, power grabbing, etc. are all a product of discontentment with the provision and circumstances that God has sovereignly ordained.

Similarly, discontentment accuses God of withholding better gifts. Despite James 1:17 establishing the contrary, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights”, discontentment says that what God has provided is insufficient (see also John 3:27; Matthew 7:7-11). In a sense, discontentment makes us little gods, again idolatry, who think we know better and deserve better. It takes, demands more, is ungrateful, and is never satisfied. It is not hard to see the wickedness of discontentment and how it is a spring from which all streams of sin find their source.

The Apostle Paul says, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain’ (1 Timothy 6:6). May that be the goal of our hearts. As one author has said, “All the wealth and prestige in the world with discontentment results in poverty of spirit. But contentment arising in our souls from living by grace –that is, from realizing we have not received what we actually deserve, but daily receive what we don’t deserve-brings great wealth of spirit, even if we are living in poverty and obscurity.”[2]

Christians, let us not be discontent and allow temptation an unguarded route into our hearts. Let us say with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” Phil. 4:11. May we be content with our lot; with where the Lord has us at this particular moment, lest we provide an avenue for temptation leading to sin. Burroughs adds, “Temptations will no more prevail over a contented man, than a dart is thrown against a brazen wall.”[3] May our contentment be found in Christ. May our every desire be satisfied in Him. Satisfaction pursued in anything other than Christ will ultimately lead to discontentment, creating a pathway for temptation that leads to sin. “Contentment is more than focusing on what we have. It is focusing on the fact that all we do have, we have by the grace of God. We do not deserve anything we have, materially or spiritually. It is all by His grace.”[4]

 

 

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Banner of Truth, pg 126

[2] Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace. NavPress, 1991, pg. 200

[3] Burroughs, 128.

[4] Bridges, 199.