Introduction: An Enlightening History
In order to walk without stumbling we must see clearly the obstacles in our path. In this book we want to discuss the stumbling blocks on the road to God’s kingdom. In order to defeat temptation we need to know where it is coming from. I pray that this book will shine a light on the sources of the temptation we face so that we do not stumble in our walk of faith.
As we consider the topic of temptation the first thing that comes to mind is of course our old enemy the Devil. He was the one in the ancient Garden that led our original parents into sin. But we will also have to deal with a couple of other concepts that are commonplace in the Word of God, namely “the World” and “the Flesh.” The Bible teaches us that these are the three sources of all temptation. We want to look at these three things and try to understand how they work, so we will know how to effectively resist them.
In John chapter 15 Jesus said that He no longer calls us servants but friends. A servant doesn’t know the intricate workings of his master’s business, but Jesus has made known to us what the Father is doing. So we will also spend some time looking at the process of transformation that God is working within us. It is important that we know and understand how this transformation works so that we can be co-laborers with God in this work of grace.
Praise God that He has given us the Old Testament which Paul says was “written down for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11). In it we find the history of the ancient Hebrews, and in that history, we find things that can “make us wise for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). In order to understand the three sources of temptation and the transformation we are presently undergoing, we need to look first at the book of Exodus. In it, we learn that the Hebrews had been enslaved by the Egyptians. Their enslavement is a picture of the slavery we once experienced under the power of sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” But He also said, “He whom the Son sets free, is free indeed.” Just as Moses came to deliver the Hebrews from Egypt’s power, so Jesus has come to set free those that call on His name.
There were three things that kept the Hebrews in slavery in Egypt; Pharaoh, the system of slavery, and the culture that the Hebrews adopted from the Egyptians. These three things find their spiritual counterparts in Satan, the World, and the Flesh. We want to look at each of these “types and shadows” of the Old Testament in order to better understand the enemies we face.
After the children of Israel left Egypt God began to form them into a people set apart for Himself. He promised them a new land and gave them a law to reorganize them as a nation. Transforming them into a great nation did not happen overnight, it was a process. The transformation worked in them by the Law of Moses is a shadow of the transformation we are experiencing as we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit.
As we meditate on the experience of the ancient Hebrews I pray that we will be led into a better understanding about the sources of temptation and the process of transformation. And I pray that a better understanding will equip us to lead to a more victorious life in Christ.
In this book, I have chosen to capitalize the terms “Flesh” and “World.” If the term “Flesh” is referring to the corrupted nature of mankind it will be capitalized, if it is used in any other sense it will not be capitalized. In the same way, when the term “World” is referring to the demonically inspired value system of this present age it will begin with a capital letter, but if used to refer to the earth it will begin with a lowercase.
The King of Egypt: Satan
The uncontested ruler of Egypt was Pharaoh. He was not only considered the almighty king, but was even considered a god. He didn’t just rule Egypt, he owned it. Everyone and everything in Egypt belonged to Pharaoh and was under his control. Of course Pharaoh couldn’t rule Egypt by himself. He had to have loyal subjects that became his hands and feet throughout the kingdom. These co-laborers of his could bring his attention to any “rebels” they found and could keep things in “proper” order.
The position Pharaoh held in ancient Egypt reminds us of the position Satan now holds over the world. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, the Bible calls Satan the “god of this age.” This is why Satan was able to tell Jesus that if he would bow down and worship him, Satan would give him the glory of all the kingdoms of the world. And just as Pharaoh had his co-laborers, so Satan has his. Jesus said that those who do the will of Satan are his children (John 8:44). Besides men, Satan also has an army of fallen angels (demons) ready to do his bidding. In Ephesians 6 we are told that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of wickedness.
The First Coup d’état
In order to understand in what sense Satan is “the god of this age” we must go back to the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:26-28 we read that mankind was given lordship over the whole earth. Of course, Man was not supposed to rule the world for himself, but as a representative of God. It is primarily for this reason that God created Man in His own image. Since he bears the image of God, Man is meant to represent the Lordship of God over everything on earth. Man was created as a steward over the earth and was given authority over everything.
This is why Satan came to tempt Man. He knew that he could not wrestle the throne away from God in the heavens, but he could usurp the authority of Man on earth. By turning Adam away from his loyalty to God, Satan was able to deceive him into surrendering his God-given dominion over the earth into the Devil’s hands. Satan didn’t try to take God’s sovereignty from Him; instead he wanted to bring the authority of Man under his own influence. Once mankind was safely separated from God’s influence and firmly under Satan’s dominion, Satan became the virtual ruler of all God had put under Man’s authority. Simply put, Satan rules this present evil age because he controls mankind.
In the Garden of Eden we see the first coup d’état (government overthrow) on earth. Man was to rule the world as God’s representative, but he surrendered all his dominion over to Satan. It is in this sense that Satan is the “god of this age.” He “lifts up and puts down” whom he wills (Ps. 75:7). He decides who will be popular, and who will be hated. He chooses what men value, and what men despise. Man has the steering wheel, but he only turns it the way the Devil says to. In this sense, Satan is in the driver’s seat of this present evil age (Gal. 1:4).
A Roaring Lion
1 Peter 5:8-9 says that Satan is like a roaring lion going about intimidating Christ’s followers. He brings all manner of fiery trials upon those that bear the name of Christ (1 Pet 4:12-14). Just as Pharaoh wouldn’t allow any rebellion from his subjects, so Satan won’t relinquish control over anyone’s soul without a fight. He seeks to intimidate people from following Christ. And if they do refuse to bow their knee to him, he will send a thorn in the flesh to torment them. He will bring insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities to make them miserable (2 Cor. 12:7-10). He does this because he knows the power and influence of someone submitted to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. He knows that his influence over the world will wane if he lets the kingdom of God spread in the hearts of men.
When this evil day of intimidation comes to our lives, Peter tells us to not be surprised (1 Pet. 4:12). Instead, we must imitate the apostles who walked away from a beating, rejoicing (Acts 5:40-41). Romans 5:3-4 tells us that we are to rejoice in sufferings. We can do this because we know that what the Devil means for evil, God will work about for good. We know that suffering leads to endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Satan means to take us out of the race, but his intimidation just causes our hearts to grow in endurance and in conformity with the character of Christ. As Christ is formed in us we are filled with hope knowing that though our outward man is wasting away, our inward man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). We understand that God works all things together for the good of those that love Him (Rom. 8:28). When we are weak, we experience the strength of God. For this reason we rejoice in trials (2 Cor. 12:9).
Going through trials never feels good. Having a roaring lion intimidating and opposing us is never a comfortable feeling. But we rejoice because we know the “end from the beginning.” We know that nothing can defeat God. Since we are on His side He will turn the enemy’s strategies against him and will come to our rescue. Rejoicing in God on the day of demonic attack quenches the fiery darts of the Wicked One. His opposition is meant to discourage and rob hope out of our hearts. But trusting in the sovereign power of God, and His good plan for us, dowses the fire of the Devil with rivers of living water. The more he seeks to destroy us, the more hope and strength are imparted to us. Our weakness leads to God’s strength. Therefore, Satan’s attacks led to his downfall in those that walk by faith!
An Angel of Light
Satan directly opposes followers of Christ like a roaring lion. But he also has a more sinister method of attack. He finds that the frontal attack on the believer is often no more successful than calling the false prophet Balaam to curse Israel (Num. 22-24). He discovers that when he tries to curse the children of God they end up receiving a blessing from God instead. If the scorching light of persecution doesn’t make the seedling wither, he seeks to choke them out with the weeds of sin. As the inventor of Balaam’s strategy he knows how the game is played. Balaam led the Israelites into sin so that they would call a curse upon themselves (Num. 31:16). So, when opposition and intimidation fails, Satan changes form and comes as a friend instead of a roaring lion. He comes with the smooth words of flattery, and the outward appearance of an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
This season of demonic tempting doesn’t come as often as we think. Satan is not omnipresent, and his hosts aren’t as vast as he would have us think. We will later learn that most temptation takes place without the presence of the Devil or his henchmen. But as we can see from the examples of Adam and Christ, there are seasons when the temptations we face are the direct work of demonic spirits.
The Garden and the Wilderness
In what way can we discern these seasons of direct demonic temptation? All temptation, from whatever source, has two sides to it; the person tempted and the sin desired. When the Flesh is enticed by the World, it can be compared to a magnet feeling attracted to metal. The magnet has an active power longing to attach to the metal, even as the Flesh craves the things of the World. The World is ever present like the guest that just won’t leave, but it is passive like the metal. We are drawn to it because of the desires that reside in our Flesh, but it does not knowingly devise ways of attracting our attention.
But when the Flesh is being directly tempted by a demonic force, the better analogy would be two magnets pulling on each other. The Flesh is yearning for the thing the World offers, but the thing, or act, desired seems to have an intelligence and intensity behind it as well. The Flesh is not the only one drawing near, but the thing, or act, desired also seems to move closer to the person being tempted. The item of temptation seems to take on a personality and reasoning of its own. Like Frodo’s ring in The Lord of the Rings book trilogy, there is a whisper of activity drawing the victim closer and closer with a power and intelligence that is more than natural.
Adam was put in the Garden of Eden with the command not to eat of the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The day that the serpent came into the Garden, the fruit on the forbidden tree did not change in appearance or form, but in the eyes of Adam and his wife, it looked a little sweeter than it had the day before. What was recently just one tree among many was now a tree endowed with the delightful ability to make one wise. There was nothing new about the tree, or its fruit, but there was a new force actively seeking to draw the couple to “take and eat.” The lies of Satan added a dimension of enticement to the inanimate object. The lie that said the fruit granted wisdom at no cost, and the desire for wisdom in the heart of the couple were a perfect match, not by accident, but by design. The “angel of light” added intensity to the temptation through the devising of a clever lie.
Jesus was led out into the wilderness to face the Devil in mortal hand-to-hand combat. As in the Garden, Satan prepared his lies beforehand. He didn’t come to Christ directly promising Him glory and power if only He would bow down and worship him. He started off more subtly. He came to a hungry man and touched on that natural desire for food. Before Satan arrived Jesus already wanted something to eat. It was natural. He had committed to fast before the Lord, but the natural hunger was ever present. But when Satan arrived, he added a devious intensity to the desire for food. He didn’t just appeal to Jesus’ physical hunger, but he touched on something spiritual as well. Satan whispered, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt. 4:3). With the Devil’s presence, bread became not only the item that would fill the Savior’s stomach, but it would also serve as a means of proving His divinity!
When Satan is on the scene, the natural temptation takes on a more intense and supernatural form. What was before merely a nagging inclination in the heart of the believer becomes a raging river of desire. The object of temptation becomes bigger than life, and the benefit promised becomes all we ever hoped for!
When we look at Eve’s conversation with the serpent we see that each of her objections is met with another skillfully fashioned lie. In this we see that direct demonic temptation is unrelenting. Whereas an everyday temptation will come with force, it quickly fades away as we pull away from the desired object, act, or thought. But when there is a demonic presence behind the temptation, every thought that is thrown down by the believer, will only create room for another dark idea to appear. Argument will not avail under such circumstances. It will wear us down, but will do nothing to drain the resources of the demonic intelligence we are wrestling with. An inability to “change the subject” is a clear sign that demonic forces are present in the midst of our temptation.
Satan not only knows how to put the temptation in the best light; he also knows how to deliver his enticing message in the most subtle forms. After Christ declared the plan God had for His life (i.e. to die on the Cross), one of His closest friends became the unwitting messenger of the Deceiver. Peter declared openly, with great affection and compassion, the very words Jesus’ humanity most desired to hear, “This will never happen to You” (Matt. 16:22). Jesus could see through the vessel used to the source of such an inviting thought. Jesus was aware that when a temptation comes with such intensity and with such accurate aim, it is not by accident, but it has been personally designed by demonic intelligence. Satan can even speak to the desires in our hearts through the mouths of those closest to us. The words of our friends can be fashioned by demons to weaken our resistance to the enticement.
Fight the Good Fight
When the enemy comes in like a flood, what should we do? Firstly, we must learn to recognize the source of the demonic temptation. We must be aware when the evil day is upon us (Eph 6:13). If we don’t know the serpent is in the garden we will be too casual in the battle of removing him. We will try to wish him gone instead of forcing him out. He will be able to hide behind our natural desires, his sound logic or the compassionate counsel of our friends and loved ones. We must be vigilant, knowing that our enemy strolls around like a roaring lion seeking one whom he may devour. We must keep our swords at arm’s length, and we must pay attention to the signs of his presence. If the intensity and intelligence of the temptations come our way and we remain ignorant, we will be losing the battle before we even know it has begun. In this case ignorance is not bliss, but destruction.
Besides recognizing the source of the temptation, we must also know the Word of God. Adam was tempted with the desire to become like God. He forgot the important detail we read in Genesis 1:27, namely that he had been created in the image of God! He was deceived in trying to attain what he had already received. Christ was tempted to prove that He was God’s Son. He avoided this clever ruse by remembering the Word of God that was spoken to Him at the Jordan River, “You are my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Remembering the promises of God will keep us from trying to take by force what we have already been granted by grace!
We must not only focus on the promises of God, but also on the commands of God’s Word. Eve forgot to hide herself in the solid rock of God’s simple truth. Instead of simple faith in the command to refrain from eating of the tree’s fruit, she allowed herself to consider other interpretations. She let her mind be guided by the suggestion that maybe God was holding something back out of selfish pride. Once the character of God is allowed to be brought into question it becomes more difficult to wholeheartedly obey His commands. For if His heart has wrong motives, His commands can’t be relied on as trustworthy guides to life.
“If You are God’s Son, why are You starving in this wilderness? If God is really pleased with You, prove it by making bread.” This was Satan’s approach toward Christ, bringing doubt on the character of God. But this subtle thought was rejected because Christ’s mind was already filled up with the simple truth, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
This statement of fact in God’s Word was for Christ a lamp unto His feet. He wasn’t led into a debate with God‘s enemy, but He knew to resist the Devil so that he would flee. He took refuge in the Word of God and stood His ground even as Shammah did when the Philistines attacked his land (2 Sam 23:11). Jesus didn’t welcome the truth about living by God’s Word as a mere good principle, but He received it as the very command of God. This Word was a guide for Christ’s actions, not just His philosophy. God’s Word is to be put into action.
God’s commands have no power to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death unless they are deposited in a heart that is committed to obey them. We are to daily submit ourselves to God (James 4:7). We are to offer up our lives as a living sacrifice over and over again (Rom 12:1). In the day of battle with our demonic foes we must check our hearts and make sure it is consecrated to obedience. If our position is not firmly on the side of the Lord we will discover that we are our own worst enemy. So we must pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way within me” (Ps. 139:23-24). If we find there is something unclean within we must follow up with the prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). We must be submitted to God if we hope to defeat the enemy that is too powerful for us. We must be on the Lord’s side if we want Him to be on ours!
We must commit ourselves to a life of obedience. In this way we declare which side we are on. But this declaration will be a failure if the prayer, “Deliver me from evil” is not lifted to God moment by moment. In our time of need we are to come before God for grace and help (Heb 4:16). Trusting in the strength of our own commitment is a direct road to failure. If we truly desire to stand, we must realize that we can never stand alone. We must appeal to the throne of grace continually.
Satan is the First Source
As we look at the issues of temptation and victory, it is important that we understand the foes we face. The first of the three we must acknowledge is Satan and his demonic hordes. We must learn to recognize the presence of his demonic tempters by being aware of the nature of the temptations we are facing. The more skilled we become at recognizing the presence of demonic activity the more promptly we can commence in pushing our enemy out of the Garden of our lives. When Satan and his messengers come with intimidation we must rejoice. When they come with enticement, we must flee to the refuge of God’s Word and grace. We must learn to fight the fight of faith with watchfulness and prayer.
When we look at the book of Exodus we see the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt. They are the bondservants of Pharaoh, just as unbelievers are slaves to Satan. In order to understand what role the World plays in temptation and bondage we must again consider the situation of the ancient Hebrew people. Just as Pharaoh ruled Egypt, so Satan rules the World.
The System of Bondage: The World
Pharaoh was not omnipresent; he wasn’t all over Egypt at the same time. He was limited to being in one place at a time just like any man. Even his henchmen couldn’t see all and be in every Hebrew home. But from his throne he created a system of slavery that continually reinforced his lordship throughout the land.
When a Hebrew man woke up in the morning, he set about working on the task given to him by Pharaoh. He had never met Pharaoh, and likely had never seen him. But from childhood he was instilled with a knowledge of what was expected of him. As far back as he could recall he remembered being a slave. As a child he was unaware of the hierarchy in place that kept his people working, but he instinctively knew what was expected of him as a member of the Hebrew people.
As he grew into a young man he walked in the path marked out for him. One could say that Pharaoh made him do it; but then again he probably did it more to please his parents than Pharaoh. He knew that his family and community expected everyone of working age to work. Maybe his father got him into picking the straw that was needed for making the bricks, or maybe his cousin taught him how to form and bake the bricks. Either way, he followed the path Pharaoh had determined for him.
It is possible that the “blasphemous” thought came to him one day, “Why do we do this?” If he expressed it to his family, they would likely say, “This is just the way it is, don’t think too much.” This counsel would come out of a lifetime of observation. They had heard others ask similar questions, and had seen the result of such “independent thinking.” They could tell stories of people being beaten within an inch of their lives. They could share stories of whippings, insults, and death. When someone started to question the path marked out for the Hebrews, swift reinforcement of Pharaoh’s absolute rule would come in the form of a good lashing!
The Hebrew’s path was not invented by his community or his parents. They too had followed others into this life of labor. The system they lived under was the special creation of Pharaoh himself. He was the one that required the labor of every man, and he was the one that sent out his messengers to ensure that his desires were carried out. He proclaimed himself ruler over the Hebrews. They grew up bowing to him and acknowledging his place as lord. When this right of kingship was questioned, his representatives came to put out the sparks of rebellion. From the cradle to the grave the Hebrews knew that Pharaoh was king, and that was that.
It is interesting to point out from the situation described above that the Hebrews were not just the subjects of his kingdom, but also the builders of his kingdom. Pharaoh designed all the roads, aqueducts, and memorials to his glory, but it was their hands that actually made his visions a reality. Not only did they make his kingdom, but the Hebrews themselves were better at reinforcing the system of slavery than any of the taskmasters they had over them. Out of concern for their families, and out of the desire for the status quo, they made sure that everyone in their communities didn’t get out of line. They were at the same time both the victims and the aggressors. Through the lie of Pharaoh’s lordship, and through the fear of retribution, the Hebrews kept themselves in line. Pharaoh designed a system of slavery that would run all by itself! It was a system founded on a lie, and maintained by intimidation.
In 1 John 2:15-17, we are told that believers are not supposed to love the World, or the things in the World. We are further told that the things in the World refer to the lusts, passions, and values of the World. This command to “not love the World” is strange when we notice that John 3:16 says, “God so love the world that he gave his only Son…” This is indeed a paradox if we imagine that John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15-17 are referring to the same thing when they use the word “world.” But in reality they are not. John 3:16 is referring to the earth with a particular emphasis on the people that inhabit that planet. But 1 John 2:15-17 is speaking of the system of values infused into the hearts of men who do not know God.
Once Satan turned men from God he was able to lead them around by the desires of their body and mind (Eph 2:3). They no longer had direct access to God and no longer saw clearly what God wanted for their lives. The only thing they could see clearly was what their earthly nature desired. Satan strengthened his position of control over men by leading them further and further into corruption. The desire for control over their own lives, led to a desire for control over the lives of others. Their desire for wealth led to the practice of oppression. The infatuation with beauty led to a lust for all forms of immorality. Men became ensnared by their own desires, and Satan used this insatiable appetite for sin to control the actions of men.
Instead of the Spirit of God leading and guiding men, the Prince of the power of the air was there to lead the destiny of mankind (Eph 2:2). He had become the maker of a new society. He began to form the culture of the World into his own image. He decreed what was desirable and what was not. He decided what was valued and what was despised. He went about dismantling what God had ordained for men by calling light, darkness; and darkness, light. Soon his “lordship” was unquestioned. It became “obvious” to mankind that getting was more desirable than giving; that being served was better than serving; that lies were more powerful in achieving one’s desires than honesty; and that beauty was more important than character. Satan’s values became the guiding principle behind all the thoughts and actions of men. The “present evil age” had begun (Gal 1:4).
Satan and his henchmen (demonic spirits) are limited in where they can be at any given moment. Like men, they are not omnipresent, but can only be in one place at a time. This limitation would seem to keep the Devil from building such a vast empire. But his kingdom, like that of ancient Pharaoh, is built on deception and intimidation. He has the God-like power to “lift up and put down” (Ps. 75:7). Those who follow his principles seem to excel. Those that resist satanic values seem to wither like a seedling before the scorching sun. He built the lie of his lordship on the simple system of reward and punishment. He intimidates resisters and rewards the submissive.
But Satan doesn’t need to be personally present to reinforce his values and commands anymore than Pharaoh did. Pharaoh didn’t need to have enough taskmasters to keep eyes on every Hebrew home in his kingdom; and neither does Satan need to have a demon for every human on planet earth. The demonic system of the world is built on the earthly desires of men. The hearts of men have wholeheartedly swallowed the lie that what Satan offers is the best thing for them. The Flesh of Man has declared the Devil the uncontested ruler of the World. It has become obvious to all worldlings that fame, power, wealth, and unbridled pleasures are to be more desired than modesty, humility, contentment, and self-control. If anyone seeks the values of God’s kingdom the whole society of men is unanimous in declaring him a fool. Everything around him reinforces the values of Satan and seeks to draw him back into the fold. Just as the family and community ensured that every Hebrew would follow Pharaoh’s commands, so every child of the World will defend the kingdom of Satan.
Conformed or Transformed
Romans 12:2 instructs “Do not be conformed to the World.” Jesus makes clear to us that we are in the world but not of the World (John 17:11-18). That is, we are living in the midst of this wicked World system, but we are not to be conformed into its image. We are not to accept its values as our own, but are to resist the pressure of the godless society around us. Instead of submitting to this World’s mold, we are supposed to be transformed into the image of Christ by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 8:29 & 12:2).
In order to live in victory over sin we must be aware that there is a corrupting influence permeating the society around us. We must learn to recognize the values of the World and deny them access to our hearts. The earth is covered in darkness. Only by walking in the light of Jesus Christ can we begin to see how thoroughly the darkness has influenced every aspect of human society.
The values of Satan have been spread far and wide. Everything in society proclaims the demonic gospel of the World. Watching our neighbors amass wealth challenges us to spend our life and energy doing the same. The beautiful woman glancing at us from the billboard declares the importance of physical appearance and at the same time the little value that should be placed on the character of the heart. Every sitcom that fails to acknowledge God’s place in the lives of its characters reinforces the humanistic philosophy propagated in the universities. Every church that uses numbers and financial prosperity to define success declares that popularity and worldly wealth are more desirable than Christ-likeness and contentment. Even if we follow the example of the monks of the Middle Ages and escape to the monastery, we will find the worldly message of spiritual pride preached through the false humility of harsh bodily treatment.
Wherever we go on God’s green earth we will face the influence of Satan’s kingdom. So we must not run from it, but defeat it with the light of God’s Word! The dark force of the World must be exposed and overthrown, not hidden from. We must overcome the power of the World by being transformed into the image of Christ, the heavenly Man.
The Weapons of God’s Warfare
In John 17:17 Jesus prayed that we would be transformed. He said it was the truth that had the power to do this. He goes on to declare that God’s Word is the truth. This is the bright light that exposes every scheme of the Devil. When the truth of God’s Word comes, every lie of the Father of lies is exposed for what it is. The power and stench of pride are cast down by the exaltation of sweet humility. The peace of contentment casts out the consuming power of greed. The beauty of holiness reveals all the spots and blemishes that cover immorality. God’s truth defeats the Devil’s lies!
The lies of the World are exposed by the truth of God that is found in His Word. If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), we must have a regular transfusion of God’s Word to replace the corruption of the worldly values we were raised on, and which still face on a daily basis. This transforming Word is to be imparted to our lives through the Holy Spirit. And God’s Spirit imparts the truth of God through the Body of Christ, the Church (John 15:26-27 & Eph. 4:4-16).
If we want to live in victory and not fall to the omnipresent temptations of the World we must have regular fellowship with the Body of Christ that is centered on God’s transforming Word. Through the Spirit-imparted gifts of Christ’s Church we will be brought to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). In this way we will no longer be tossed to and fro by the waves of worldly values (Eph. 4:13). This is why the Scripture declares that the Church is the pillar and support of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Fellowship in a local church that teaches the truth of the Bible is an absolute necessity if we want to avoid falling under the influence of the World. By regularly participating in such fellowship we are reinforcing kingdom values in order to stave off the continual and invasive pressure of the World system. The local church which preaches the Word of God is a kingdom community that exposes and opposes worldly influence.
Many Christians understand the need to be connected to the Body of Christ. They read Christian books, listen to the Christian radio station, attend seminars about biblical topics and go regularly to a Sunday morning worship service at a nearby church. They understand that they cannot be genuinely connected to Christ without relating with his Body, the Church. But what many fail to realize is that the only way to truly connect with the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole is by fellowshipping with, submitting to, and serving in a particular local church. Many insist on associating with every church and in so doing fail to truly connect with any church.
In John 13 Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and then calls them to follow His example by regularly serving one another in a similar manner. Jesus chose foot washing as a way to illustrate the intimate fellowship He calls His Body to partake in. When washing someone’s feet we must get close enough to touch them. And we cannot really expect someone to wash our feet from ten feet away. The fellowship that Christ calls us to participate in requires that we get close to people and allow them to get close to us. Many attend a Sunday morning service in the same way they go to a movie at the cinema; walking in and walking out without any real personal interaction. If this is our practice, it is true that we are attending a church, but we are not fellowshipping with the Church. We are attending an event, but we are not relating with believers.
Why is it that we hesitate to get close to people in our local church? There are certainly many reasons that we could give. But the illustration Jesus gave us in John 13 reveals the most common one, dirt! Whether we are taking someone’s dirty feet into our hands or humbling ourselves by putting our stinky feet in theirs, it is an uncomfortable practice.
True fellowship obliges us to make other people’s difficulties and trials our own. We often feel we have enough troubles to deal with in our own lives, and so our selfish hearts resist taking up the responsibility of helping our brothers and sisters with theirs. On the other hand, when we are called to open up the dirt and dysfunction of our own lives to others our prideful independence loudly objects. In order to accept the practice of true Christian fellowship we must be willing to love others and bear their burdens, as well as humble ourselves and admit our weakness. This is not the broad and easy way of the World. The very practice of intimate fellowship itself helps to break off the influence of the World. Pride and selfishness are cast out as we submit to the discipline of godly fellowship.
Jesus told Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10). In Jesus’ day, men often wore sandals and walked on dirt roads. If a person took a bath he was clean from head to toe, but as soon as he went for a walk his feet would be covered in dust and dirt. By the blood of Jesus we have been cleansed from the guilt of our sin. But as we walk out our faith in this corrupt age the filth of the World can cling to us. In order to keep from being thoroughly corrupted by the ways of the World we must allow ourselves to be washed by the truth of God’s Word that is distributed by the Church of God. It is through regular and intimate fellowship with a local congregation that we are able to come in contact with this cleansing work.
Let Your Light Shine
Jesus told us that we are not of this World, but He also made it clear that we are still in this world. We are not called to separate ourselves from society as the monks of the middle ages attempted to do. Instead, we are called to receive a regular dose of God’s truth through fellowship in a local church. It is through this kingdom influence that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). By accepting God’s light, we become children of light (Eph. 5:8). For this reason Jesus said we are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). He went on to explain that the purpose of any light is to give light to those that are in darkness (Matt. 5:15-16).
We were called out of the World to be cleansed and transformed by the Word of Christ (John 17:6 & 17). But that was not the end of God’s plan for us. Instead, Christ has sent us back into the world (i.e. human society) so that the lost might see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (John 17:18; Matt. 516). We have been called into fellowship with God in order to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). And we have been sent into society to expose darkness and be agents of transformation (Eph. 5:7-14).
Moses was saved out of the Nile River by Pharaoh’s daughter. For this reason, he was given the name Moses (meaning, “drawn out”). Later in his life, God called him out of Egypt to the land of Midian where he was transformed into a shepherd. This transformation was not only for Moses’ personal benefit, but was also meant to bless those Hebrews who were still bound in slavery. God didn’t just call Moses out of Egypt to deliver him, but He also sent him back into Egypt as a deliverer.
The word “church” in Greek means, “the called out ones.” We too, like Moses, have been called out of slavery to serve God in the freedom of holiness. We have come to know the truth and the truth has set us free (John 8:32)! And we too, like Moses, have been sent back into society to preach the saving truth of the Gospel (Matt. 28:18-20)!
The World is the Second Source
In the last chapter we learned that the first source of temptation is the Devil and his demons. We must learn to recognize seasons of direct demonic temptation or we will find ourselves on the losing side of the battle. Even as Pharaoh sometimes sent his taskmasters to reinforce his dominion in Egypt, so Satan sometimes sends his demons to try and bring us in line through persecution and temptation.
But as mentioned above, Satan is limited in the same way Pharaoh was. Satan’s forces can’t be in all places at once in order to protect his influence. For this reason Satan created a system of slavery. This system has the power to automatically reinforce the values of the Devil’s kingdom in all places and at all times. Just as the Hebrew community kept its own people in line through submission to a lie, and fear of retribution, the lost among humanity continually reinforce the values of the demonic kingdom.
But God’s truth has the power to expose and dethrone Satan and his values in the hearts of men. God imparts His truth by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Body of Christ. God has ordained local churches as kingdom communities that don’t just insulate believers from the world, but equip them with the truth necessary to expose and overcome the worldly influence that seeks to ensnare them, as well as deliver those still bound to demonic darkness. For this reason, those that seek to live in victory must fellowship on a regular basis with other believers at a Bible-based local church. The World is the second source of temptation for mankind. But, by God’s grace, he has provided a way of deliverance and transformation!
The Culture of Egypt: The World
In this chapter we want to clarify what the Bible means when it refers to the Flesh. We will start by looking at the definition the Bible itself provides for us in the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians chapter 2, verses 1 and 2, we are told that all unbelievers are dead in sin, and follow the course of this World and the “Prince” of that system, namely Satan. People who are spiritually dead (i.e. alienated from God) are being led by Satan via the World system. Verse 3 goes on to say that these people live in the passions of their Flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. Flesh, in its negative sense, is defined in this verse.
Flesh: The desires of the body and the mind
So are the body and its desires evil? Are the various desires of the mind evil? Jesus had a human body and a mind with all the natural desires that accompany them, so was He sinful? These and many other questions must be addressed, and we will seek to address them. But before we describe the Flesh in technical terms let’s first look at the picture painted for us in the book of Exodus.
An Ingrained Culture
After being led through the Red Sea, the Hebrews were a free people. They were no longer subject to the slavery of Pharaoh. They were brought out into the wilderness to become a new people that would be reorganized under the Law of Moses. This was a fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham that he would be made into a great nation (Gen. 12:2). The taskmasters were back in Egypt collecting the straw that the Hebrews would never collect again; and Pharaoh’s top henchmen lay dead at the bottom of the Red Sea. The Hebrews were a free people!
In the height of their freedom, Numbers 11:4-5 gives us this account:
“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.’”
Here we see the foreigners living among the Hebrews in the wilderness crying out for the food of Egypt. They don’t like the heavenly food, manna. It is not suitable to their taste buds. As one who has lived in foreign lands for nearly 20 years I can identify with their problem. After living so long in Asia, I still rarely have a fully satisfying meal. My tongue has learned to speak Asian languages, but it still struggles with Asian food. It is easy to understand these outsiders living in the midst of Israel, but the Hebrews are a more curious case.
It wasn’t just the Gentiles crying out for the food of Egypt, but the Hebrews were complaining as well. They remembered the food of Egypt and craved after it. The heavenly food did not satisfy them. They wanted the food of bondage! How could this be?! Simple really, the food of Egypt was all they knew. Their tastes were formed and fashioned by the food they grew up eating. They were like my children who were born, and grew up, in a foreign land. My children like American food well enough, but without some Indonesian rice or noodles now and then, they are not fully satisfied. They might have American blood flowing through their veins, but their taste buds are distinctly Indonesian! Indonesian food is foreign to me, but not to my children. I grew up eating American food so Asian food doesn’t quite suit me. But for my children American food is the “foreign food.” And for the Hebrews, who had been living in Egypt and eating the food of Egypt for hundreds of years, this bread from God was foreign as well.
The Hebrews had spent hundreds of years as slaves in the land of Egypt. They never had the chance to leave Egypt and experience any other way of life. Egyptian culture was the only thing they knew. After living in Pharaoh’s land for 400 years it is no wonder they became so completely adapted to Egyptian culture. The activities of Egypt became their activities. The food of Egypt became their food. And the habits of Egypt became their habits. In almost every way, the Hebrews had become children of Pharaoh.
The Ingrained Culture of the World
Turning again to Ephesians 2:1-3 we note that we believers were born alienated from God just like the rest of Adam’s descendants. We were “sons of disobedience” as we followed the “course of the World” and the “Prince of the power of the air.” We like the Israelites were raised in a land of bondage, the World. Before we were called out of darkness by our heavenly Moses, namely Christ, we were molded and shaped into the image of the World’s value system. We were pliable clay in the hands of the “god of this World.” His lies became our truth, and his wishes became our commands.
We didn’t resist the defacing of the image of God in which we had originally been created. Instead we became Satan’s co-laborers in this process of deformation. We were not then foreigners in the World as we are now, but we were full-fledged citizens, children of the Devil! As Jesus said, we were slaves to sin and willingly fulfilled the desires of our demonic “father” (8:34 & 44). And in that way we were conformed to the image of the World, even the image of Satan himself (Rom. 12:2). We were slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness (Rom. 6:19). We were lost!
But thank God, our spiritual Moses did come! Jesus came and delivered us out of bondage and set us free! He reconciled us to God and started the process of renewing us in the spirit of our minds by teaching us to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:23-24). He teaches us to put off the old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires (Eph. 4:22).
We lived our lives following the “culture” of the World. This culture became ingrained within us even as the culture of Egypt became ingrained in the character of the ancient Hebrews. This culture does not disappear the moment we receive the Spirit of God, but we are transformed through a process. Just as I have spent years adapting to the cultures of Asia, the believer will take years adapting to the values of the Kingdom of God. We no longer need to walk in obedience to the desires of the Flesh, but the desires of the Flesh are not immediately removed at our conversion.
The people of Israel received an appetite for the food of Egypt during their years of bondage. After they were delivered from Egypt, that craving remained. In the same way, during our life before Christ we created an unhealthy appetite for the things of the World. And though God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, we still have a lingering hunger for the corrupt values and pleasures Satan offers those who will follow the course of this World (Col. 1:13, Eph. 2:2). This corrupt appetite for things God has forbidden is what we refer to when we talk about the Flesh.
Natural Desire vs. Corrupted Desire
If the Flesh is defined in Ephesians 2:3 as “the desires of the body and the mind,” does that mean the desires of the body and mind are evil? Let’s look at some examples of such desires.
The desire for food (a desire of the body) is not evil, and yet it becomes evil if it is done outside the boundaries of self-control. Eating and desiring food is by no means a sin, but overindulgence through gluttony most certainly is.
Sexual desire (a desire of both the body and the mind) was created by God, and He proclaimed that all of His creation was “good.” So sexual desire is not a result of sinfulness, but is the plan and creation of God. But unbridled sexual desire is called lust, and fulfilling it is what we call immorality. The sexual desire that longs to be fulfilled in ways contrary to the will of the Creator is a corrupted desire.
The desire for acceptance from others (a desire of the mind) is not unnatural or perverted. But if it controls all of our actions and leads us to disobey God’s righteous commands it becomes idolatrous. To obey our boss when he asks us to help him do a shady business deal is based on the natural desire of acceptance, but it goes outsides the bounds of righteousness, and is therefore a wayward desire of the Flesh.
The desires of the body and mind do not defile us unless they are obeyed above God or fulfilled in ways contrary to the will of God. The natural desires of the body and mind are not a corrupting influence, but the desires of the body and mind that are exalted above the lordship of God are!
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had desires of both the body and the mind. They desired wisdom because God created them with that desire. He wanted to raise them as His children. This desire would ensure their continual hunger for growth in God-likeness. God did not just give Adam and Eve a desire for things like wisdom, but He also gave them the very practical desire for food. This desire would ensure they maintain a healthy physical body. Without it they would be likely to starve their bodies through forgetfulness and neglect. And to fulfill this desire God provided them with a variety of tasty and attractive fruits. The desire for food and the desire for wisdom were God-given, and therefore, godly desires.
These desires were good and holy, but they were corruptible; it was possible to pervert them. They were good as long as they remained in submission to the will of God, and were fulfilled in the way He had ordained.
When Satan came on the scene he sought to distort Adam and Eve’s godly desires for food and wisdom. He corrupted them by putting “their bellies” (i.e. their appetite and desire) in the place reserved for God alone (Phil. 3:19). He told them that they should not follow the will of God, but their own will. “What God desires,” he said to them, “is not as important as what you desire.” Satan is a corrupter of God’s good creation. He caused Adam and Eve to rebel against God by teaching them to follow their earthly desires instead of their heavenly God. He taught them to follow the same path he had taken by setting themselves up as lords over their own lives.
When they followed Satan’s path the consequence was spiritual death. Spiritual death is not the death of the human spirit as some imagine, but it is a relational alienation between God and Man. The spirits of the first couple had been created for uninterrupted fellowship with God, but when they rebelled against God, that connection was severed. They were left without the clear guidance and fellowship of God’s Spirit. Their relationship with God had died! They no longer had the option of following God through the light of the Spirit, but were left to follow the desires of their bodies and their minds. Their spirit was no longer captivated by the desires of God, but became focused on their earthly desires.
Satan then went about the work of leading them wherever he wished by inflaming and perverting every good and natural desire. He began to lead mankind into every form of excess. Natural desire for food led to gluttonous desire. Human sexuality was distorted into all kinds of immoral perversion. What was once a holy desire given for the pleasure and benefit of mankind led to humiliating acts of depravity. The desire for acceptance from others led Man to commit all kinds of acts of deception and manipulation. The godly desire to protect those under one’s authority led to the invention of war and oppression. The affection a woman felt for her child led to gossip, jealousy, and injustice when dealing with other people’s children. Satan set about his despicable work as the destroyer of what God had created.
Some Definitions and the New Man
The Bible uses the term “flesh” in different ways. The term “flesh” can be defined in the following way when referring to the wayward and sinful inclinations of Man:
Flesh (sinful): The deformed desires of the body and mind that have been perverted by living separated from God and His righteousness
At other times the term “flesh” just means:
Flesh (natural): The earthly nature of humanity
In John 1:14 we are told the Word became flesh. We know that Jesus took on humanity and lived and died as a man. But we also know that he walked in fellowship with God from his mother’s womb. In the famous Messianic Psalm that prophesies the crucifixion of Christ, we read, “Yet You are He who took Me from the womb; You made Me trust You at my mother’s breast” (Psalm 22:9). Since He lived in continual fellowship with God the Father, His human desires never became unbridled or perverted. The desires of His body and mind were always kept in perfect submission to the will of the Father; He walked righteously and remained righteous.
Satan was able to tempt Christ, since He was a man with all the natural desires of men. Jesus had the natural and godly desire to live, and not die. Satan tried to pervert this desire and get him to disobey the command of the Father to lay His life down for his sheep. Though this desire was intense and led Christ to sweat blood in the shadow of His impending death, Christ submitted to the will of Heaven.
Though Christ knew that Psalm 2 promised Him the nations as His inheritance, He also knew that Psalm 22 said that this destiny would only be achieved through death on the Cross. So when the Devil played on this desire for exaltation during the third temptation in the wilderness, Jesus submitted that desire to the Father’s will and timing. Jesus lived his life with all the desires of a man, so he was tempted in every way a man can be tempted. But he didn’t live His life as a man alienated from God, corrupted by the World, and inflamed with perverted desires. He is the One who was in every respect tempted as we are, yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).
In the Garden Man walked in fellowship with God. Through this fellowship Man was able to know and submit to the will of God. Man’s spirit was free to submit to God, and had the grace and light it needed to control the desires of his body and mind. But when Man sinned he was cut off from that grace and light, and he was left with only his earthly desires to follow. Man in his alienation from, and ignorance of, God was no longer able to submit every aspect of his humanity to the will of God, but instead followed the desires of his body and mind. Satan made sure to entice every possible physical and mental desire in order to enslave the will of Man. In this way the Devil took control over mankind. Man was no longer free to follow God, because he no longer had access to God.
Jesus was born in fellowship with God, as Adam was on the first day of his existence. But Jesus continued to submit all of His natural inclinations and desires to the Lordship of God’s Word. Through a lifetime of obedience to God, He resisted the World’s attempt to conform Him into its image. His ultimate act of submission was at the Cross when He surrendered even the strong desire for survival to the Lordship of His Father.
In Indonesia the most popular fruit is called durian. Most Indonesians’ mouths will water at the mention of this local delicacy. On the other hand, one is hard-pressed to find an American that can endure eating it without feeling nauseated, much less enjoy it. Durian is an acquired taste; and for an American, it is hard to acquire!
If God called an American on a fast for three days while residing in Indonesia, it is certain that Satan would not send his messengers to ruin that fast by tempting him with thoughts of durian. He would not send the foreigner’s neighbors to offer him a piece of freshly baked durian cake or a delicious scoop of durian flavored ice cream. Satan would know better than to tempt someone with something he doesn’t already desire. Instead the tempter would turn the American’s thoughts towards chicken fajitas, a pepperoni pizza, or a good old-fashioned cheeseburger with fries.
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:14). It is a simple fact that people can only be tempted by things that they desire. A person who doesn’t desire the comfort of wealth will not waste their money on a lottery ticket. The man that desires to live in obscurity will not wait in line to be a contestant on American Idol. And the woman who finds her greatest pleasure in nurturing and educating her children will not be enticed by the thought of a prosperous career and life in the fast lane. On the other hand, the person content with his financial situation could be tempted to despise the rich for their “greed;” the man who delights in obscurity could be tempted to isolate himself and fail to use his God-given gifts to bless others; and the simple housewife could be tempted to judge and criticize the working mother.
In the wilderness the Israelites turned back to Egypt in their hearts (Acts 7:39). Longing for the religion of Egypt, they fashioned a calf out of gold and worshipped it as their god. Their appetite for the meat and seasonings of Egypt caused them to grumble and complain over and over again. And the fond, though inaccurate, memories of their “stable” life back in the land of bondage caused them to rebel against God and His prophet Moses when faced with the prospect of war. The sins they committed in the wilderness were a direct result of the desires they carried in their hearts. The Tempter knew how to trap them because he knew what they wanted.
On the night Jesus was betrayed He warned the disciples that they would all fall away when He was arrested and put to death. Ignorant of their own weakness they all followed Peter’s example by proclaiming, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you” (Matt. 26:35). As the time of demonic temptation drew closer, Jesus warned Peter, James and John of their vulnerability. In Matthew 26:41 He commanded them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” We know the rest of the story. They continued to sleep and when the time of Christ’s arrest came, all the disciples fled for safety. Jesus tried to warn them about their weakness, but they failed to recognize it until it was too late. This ignorance led to their downfall.
The Bible warns, “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 12). We must understand that the desires of the Flesh are still present with us. We are no longer enslaved to the desires of our Flesh, but it still tries to compel us to fulfill its appetites. We must not be ignorant of our own weaknesses as the disciples of Jesus were. We must recognize our corrupted desires so that we can be watchful and resist them. We must place our faith in God to deliver us from them by the power of His Holy Spirit. We must appeal for this power by praying for the Lord to deliver us from evil. And we must apply this power by avoiding temptations when possible and resisting temptations when they can’t be avoided.
We have been reconciled to God, delivered from our spiritual Egypt. We are no longer under the control of the Devil or enslaved to the influence of the World. But because we were once in bondage and alienated from God by wicked works the natural desires of our bodies and minds have been corrupted. God has begun the process of transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ by the renewal of our minds. But we must recognize that as long as we are on this earth that process is not completely finished. We are waiting in hope for the return of Jesus and the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). We await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:20-21). Until that day we live in hope and walk by faith. We must fight the good fight of faith by staying watchful over the desires that seek to tempt us to disobey God’s will. And we must pray without ceasing that God will empower us by His grace to submit to His will and deny the corrupt desires of the Flesh.
Leaving Egypt Behind: Transformation
When we came to Christ we were delivered from having to submit to Satan and the World’s value system. But due to the fact that we were once enemies of God, living according to the desires of the Flesh, our humanity has been corrupted. As believers we still have many unruly desires that must be crucified (i.e. denied). In this chapter we want to discuss God’s plan to transform us back into His image, and restore human nature to its original condition. We will again look to the history of Israel as a guide as we seek to understand God’s plan for us.
The Making of a Nation
In Deuteronomy 6:20-25 we read:
“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’”
God didn’t only plan to deliver the people of Israel out of slavery; He also wanted to transform them into a free people that walked in righteousness. He wanted them to be free from the corrupt ways of Egyptian culture. After bringing the Hebrews out of Egypt, He began to make them into “a great nation” (Gen. 12:1-4). He even promised them a land that they could call their own. But if they were to succeed in being the Lord’s own people, they would have to be transformed. If they went into the Promised Land with the culture they had learned in Egypt, it wouldn’t be long until God would judge them even as He had judged the Egyptians.
In order to root out the culture of Egypt from their hearts, God had to give them a new “culture.” The Law of Moses included instructions about every area of life; how to worship God, what to eat, what holidays to celebrate, and how to live a moral life. In Deuteronomy 6:20-25 God told the Israelites what they were supposed to tell their children when they asked about the purpose of the Law. After sharing about the exodus from Egypt they were to explain that the Law was given for their good, and that by obeying it they would be made into a righteous nation.
God gave the people of Israel a law in order to control the desires of Egypt and instill in them new habits and customs. God wasn’t satisfied with simply bringing the Jews out of bondage; He also desired to remove the bondage from within them. God won’t be satisfied with anything less in our lives. God didn’t only deliver us from the power of Satan and the World; He is also in the process of getting the World out of us! Just as He sought to extract Egyptian culture from the actions and habits of the Jewish nation, in the same way He is now busy removing the values of this present evil age out of our hearts and minds!
But we know that the Law was not successful in changing the hearts and minds of Israel. The Law was written on stone and could only affect the actions of the Hebrews; it had no power to transform their hearts. God enforced the Law by blessing the nation when they obeyed and punishing them when they rebelled. We know that when the people of Israel entered the Promised Land they did not fully obey the commands of the Lord; instead they mixed with the surrounding nations. This compromise led to their downfall. The Law was good, but it did not have the power to change them from the inside out. Since they did not obey the Law, but went after the gods and customs of the peoples around them, they were cast out of the Promised Land and once again enslaved in a foreign land, namely Babylon.
In Romans 7 we read about the experience of every sincere man under the Old Testament Law. We are told that though the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good, nevertheless, it was weakened by the Flesh (Rom. 7:12 & 8:3). The commands, if obeyed would change the outward habits of the nation, but they could not change the heart. The Law is spiritual, but the people of Israel (as well as every other nation) were of the Flesh, sold under sin (Rom. 7:14).
So, though many of the Jews had the desire to do what is right, they didn’t have the ability to carry it out (Rom. 7:18). They could not do the good they wanted to do; instead they did the evil they didn’t want to do (Rom. 7:19). The Jews learned that nothing good dwelt in their Flesh (Rom. 7:18 & 20). Their conscience could recognize the goodness of God’s Word, but they saw in their Flesh another law waging war against the law of their mind (i.e. conscience) making them captive to the law of sin that dwelt in their Flesh (Rom. 7:22-23). The Law was good, and if they submitted to it, it would change their outward habits, but it did not cut deep enough. It didn’t have the power to root sin out of their heart. It could only impose a burden upon them that would keep that corrupt nature from running wild. The Law could restrain them from without, but it could not re-train them from within.
But God’s eternal plan for all people, which He revealed in Christ, is much greater than His temporary plan for the nation of Israel. God has done what the Law, weakened by the Flesh, could not do (Rom. 8:4). Through Christ He opened a new and living way into the presence of God (Heb. 10:20). In the New Covenant we are given the Spirit of God within us to write the character of God upon our hearts so that we might fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law by walking according to the Spirit, instead of the Flesh (Rom. 2:15 & 8:4). Now, by the Spirit, we can put to death the misdeeds of the body, and live (Rom. 8:13). We are no longer bound to live according to the Flesh but have been delivered from bondage through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 7:24-25, 8:12).
God desired to restrain the influence of Egyptian culture on the people of Israel. He used the Law of Moses to do that very thing. But since the Law was not written on their hearts, but rather on tablets of stone, it could not bring transformation from within. At most it could keep the Flesh from running to wild extremes. But God has a greater plan for us. He has come to live inside us and write the righteousness of His law upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31-33, Ez. 11:19).
While we were separated from God we were enslaved to the desires of our body and minds. Our Flesh desired the things of the World, and in this way, our nature was conformed to the World (Rom. 12:2). Since we didn’t know God, we followed after the only thing we did know; namely, our earthly desires.
In order to understand what we have gained in Christ we must understand what we lost in Adam. Adam and Eve didn’t catch some sort of virus when they sinned. They didn’t infect their children with sin, as with a disease. Instead, the sin in the Garden resulted in relational separation from God. When they sinned, they didn’t receive a sinful nature, but they lost communion with God. They didn’t catch a disease but they lost an inheritance.
They gave birth to their children while in exile from the Garden. They had no direct connection with God so their children were born without a connection to God. “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Prov.13:22). Adam was not a “good man,” but a transgressor. So he had nothing to leave to his children or their descendants. He lost the only inheritance his offspring needed to walk in righteousness; namely, a relationship with God. He gambled everything on the Devil’s lie, and ended up totally bankrupt.
Mankind has been bankrupt ever since that fateful day in the Garden. Since then Satan has been busy at the task of defacing the original image of God (i.e. “true righteousness and holiness” –Eph. 4:24) from the character and nature of Man. Mankind is filled with ignorance and darkness, totally alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18). So they are destined to corruption through deceitful desires (Eph. 4:22). Men without Christ are slaves to impurity and to lawlessness. As they submit their lives to sin, they are led into more and more lawlessness (Rom. 6:19).
Simply put, mankind has been corrupted from a righteous character and nature by living in sin. Even as the swine is dirty, because he lives in the mud; so Man is sinful, because, for thousands of years, he has lived in sin. Living in exile, Man has become a stranger to the righteousness of God, and has become at home in the sinful corruption of a fallen world.
When Adam sinned, he lost direct fellowship with God. He could no longer walk with God in the cool of the day. He was like an electric appliance without a power source. This lost connection passed onto his descendants. All men were born separated from God. Without a direct connection to God they were left to follow what their earthly nature wanted. They became strangers with God, and no longer knew what pleased Him. Even those that wanted to please Him found themselves bound to follow the only master they had nearby, the desires of their body and mind. This estrangement from God led men into deeper and deeper corruption. Men were separated from God because of Adam’s sin, and this caused men to become sinners who followed carnal desires instead of God’s will.
This was the situation of men when Jesus came on the scene. Jesus walked with God from his mother’s womb. He had a direct connection with the Father because He was eternally One with Him. He submitted to the Father’s will throughout His entire life. At the Cross He gave His life a ransom so the Father could welcome us back into intimate fellowship with Him. When we believed in Jesus, access to God was opened up to us, and He poured out His Holy Spirit upon us.
The Spirit came not to speak about Himself, but He comes into our lives to reveal Jesus to us. The Spirit teaches us the will of God by revealing God’s Son to us. When we see the Son, we come to know the Father. We are again given the opportunity to follow God instead of our earthly desires through fellowship with the Father and Son by the Spirit (1 John 1:3).
As we submit to the Spirit of God, and all the things He teaches us about the character and will of God, we are reformed, step by step, into the image of God. Because we have the Spirit we are no longer bound to the sinful desires of the Flesh, but can now submit to the will of God. As we submit, our character and desires come to resemble the character and desires of God Himself. Whereas before we were growing corrupt through our ignorance of God and our alienation from Him, we are now being reformed into God’s righteous character through fellowship with, and knowledge of, God through the Spirit of Christ (Eph. 4:17-24).
Just as the Hebrews were once bound to submit to Egyptian culture, we were once forced to absorb the World’s values and practices into our very nature. Like them, we had no other choice; we were slaves to Satan and his kingdom. But in Christ we are given a choice. Though it is still possible for believers to submit themselves to sin, which leads to corruption and death, it is no longer our inevitable destiny (Rom. 6:19 & 21). Having received the Spirit of God, we are now able to put to death the misdeeds of the body and live (Rom. 8:13). We are now free to choose the culture of God’s kingdom by submitting to His Spirit. We are free to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Instead of being conformed to this World, we can choose to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). Those who don’t know Christ are still bound in sin; but we who have been reconciled to God through Him are set free from the passions of our Flesh by living in submission to God’s Holy Spirit.
The Flesh is the primary source of temptation. The corrupt desires of the earthly nature have accepted the culture of the World. The Flesh has been formed by the World, and always desires what the World offers. But we have been delivered from bondage to the Flesh; we have a new Master, the Spirit of God. We are able to deny the Flesh, though it longs for sin. We are no longer bound to obey sinful desires. We can crucify them by obeying God’s Word in fellowship with the Spirit. The desires of the Flesh are always there, but they are no longer in charge of deciding what we do. We are being transformed step by step through the power of God’s Spirit.
While Christ was hanging on the Cross as punishment for the sins of Man He was thirsty. He was powerless to quench His own thirst so he cried out, “I thirst” (John 19:28). The soldiers were not obligated to fulfill His desire, but one of them did. In the same way our Flesh has been hung up on that Cross and is powerless to carry out its desires. Though our Flesh daily cries out its requests, we must not show mercy like that soldier so long ago. Instead we must turn a deaf ear to the desires of our Flesh. We must choose to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, by making no provision for the Flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). The Flesh can still desire, but we are no longer obligated to give it what it wants.
The wonderful fact is that not only are we forgiven of our sins, but we are also freed from the control of sinful desire. Though our nature was corrupted as we lived according to the ways of the World, it can also be transformed as we walk according to the Spirit of God (Eph. 2:1-3). Before we were conformed from without, now we can be transformed from within (Rom. 12:1-2). This transformation is not merely outside like those that followed the Law of Moses. Jesus told us that Christian righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees who followed the letter of the law, but didn’t walk according to the Spirit (Matt. 5:20, Rom. 8:3-4, 2 Cor. 3:6-9). We don’t merely clean the outside of the cup, like the Pharisees, but we are cleansed from within by the Spirit of God.
When God comes to live in us, He begins the process of reforming and restoring our nature as He intended it to be in the beginning. As we submit to this process, He begins to transform not only our actions, but also our hearts (Rom. 8:4 & 2:15). He works in us and causes us to desire and do the things that please Him (Phil. 2:13). After forgiving us through the sacrifice of Christ, He begins to restore us to the image of God by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Spirit (Tit. 3:4-7).
This is a wonderful salvation indeed. But there is a dangerous error we can make as we meditate on the transforming work of the Spirit in our lives. After learning that our very nature is being transformed from within with ever increasing glory, many make the mistake of thinking that this change is automatic. Often when people hear that God is working in them to change their desires and actions they forget that we are also called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13). God is always at work conforming us to the image of Christ; but we must become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching which we were committed (Rom. 8:29 & 6:17). In the past we presented our bodies as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness; now we must present our bodies as slaves to righteousness leading to a holy transformation (Rom. 6:19).
Jesus said that we would know the truth, and the truth would set us free (John 8:32). But He didn’t mean that knowing the truth will automatically change our hearts and set us free. He taught that the truth would set us free if we submit to it (John 8:31). Only through letting Jesus’ Word abide in us by obeying His commandments can we be transformed (John 15:4, 7 & 10).
Simply put, God’s Spirit works the character of Christ into us, as we obey the Spirit. Romans 8:14 says, “Those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God.” This verse is not talking about “being led” to prophesy as in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Romans 8:12-13 make it clear that this is speaking about walking according to the will of the Spirit and putting to death (i.e. denying) sinful desires. God is at work on us, but we must surrender to the molding work of the Spirit through a living and obedient faith. Without God working in us, we CANNOT be changed; and without our willing and active submission to the work of the Spirit, God WILL NOT change us!
When learning about the work of the Spirit in our transformation, the first mistake we can make is by believing that we have no part to play in walking out our reformation. But there is another error that is just as dangerous. Some mistakenly believe that once we have been transformed, we can never go back to corruption. Believing that Man has no role in walking out his salvation can lead to complacency, but so can believing we can never be corrupted again by the World no matter how we live.
We are told that in this present age we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another by God’s Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). But this transformation will not be complete, or permanent, until the return of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:1-4, 1 John 3:1-2, 1 Cor. 15:51-55 & Rom. 8:18-25). Until that Day any degree of reformation worked into our nature by the Spirit of God will be dependent on us continuing to abide in Jesus Christ. If we fellowship with Christ by trusting and obeying Him we will bear much fruit; but if we turn from a faith that submits to Him, we will no longer have the power of transformation within us. We will be like the branch detached from the vine which bears no fruit.
Let me illustrate this spiritual truth with an analogy. In Indonesia we cannot drink the tap water; instead every home has a water dispenser. After buying a 5-gallon bottle of water you place it on the dispenser. Then you put the glass up to the nozzle and out comes the water. Most of these dispensers come with a water heater. The water that comes out of the blue nozzle is room temperature; but the water from the red nozzle is hot.
Now imagine the hot water in the heated side of the dispenser boasting about how much hotter it is than that lukewarm water next to it. In one sense, the hot water would be right; its temperature is warmer than the water in the unheated part of the dispenser. But the hot water is not hot, in and of itself. It only remains warm as long as the heating coil from the dispenser remains in contact with the water. The water does not have an independent heating source. It is dependent on the heat of the heating mechanism. So, though the water on the red side is hot, if you remove the heater, that both made and keeps it warm, it will gradually return to room temperature. If the water is not heated from within by the heating coil it will be cooled from without by the air in the room.
This is a picture of our transformation up until the resurrection of our bodies at the return of Jesus Christ. At present we are that hot water. Our character is different than the character of those that live according to the ways of this World. Our nature is growing in holiness. Our desires are being reformed and conformed to the desires of our God. But the changes that have taken place inside of us are dependent on the Holy Spirit. If we stop following the Spirit, any change that we have experienced in our inner man will be reversed. If we become conceited and think that we stand, we will fall (1 Cor. 10:12). If we don’t continue to abide in Christ, any degree of transformation we have obtained will be lost.
The changes worked in us by God’s Spirit are not permanent until the Second Coming of Christ. If the water heater is not able to influence the water from within, the water will be influenced from without by the air in the room. And we, if not transformed from within by submitting to the Spirit of the Lord, will be conformed from without by the World!
Limited, Yet Real, Transformation
We noted above that the transformation of our nature will not be complete or permanent until the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies that will take place at that time. At the Second Coming we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Cor. 15:51-55). When He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see him as He is (1 John 3:2). But for now we are in process. We are beholding the glory of the Lord, and are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). And that process will not come to a conclusion until the Day of Christ. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).
Though we won’t be completely transformed until the return of Christ, nevertheless we are experiencing genuine transformation now. We don’t have to wait until the Second Coming before we start to partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). As we walk with Christ we will experience a change in the things we desire. Before we knew Christ we were following sinful desires that led to even more sinful desires. But as we walk with Christ our hearts are changed. The desires of our Flesh are conquered by the desires of the Holy Spirit. Our earthly nature which was once a wild and rebellious jungle is pruned and brought under control. Sexual desires that had been perverted become less unruly, the love for power gets replaced with a zeal for humility and the lusty pursuit for wealth gets tempered through contentment and a hunger for righteousness. This is not to say that lust, pride, or greed never raise their ugly head from within us; it is just that the Holy Spirit helps us to rule over the sin that desires to destroy us (Gen. 4:7). And the temptations from within are made manageable in an ever increasing measure. As we present our bodies to God’s Spirit as instruments of righteousness, holiness is the result (Rom. 6:16-19).
Until the Return of Christ, we will not be without temptation. But as the character of Christ is written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit, walking in righteousness does become easier. There are always new areas of our nature to conquer. We can never get to a point where we can say, “We have arrived.” But there is a real, even if limited, change that takes place deep within us as we submit to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. And our glorious hope is that one day our limited change will become complete. We are waiting for the day when our natures will be perfectly conformed to the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29).
Possessing the Land
The Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt so that they could become God’s holy people. They were given the Law of Moses to limit the influence of Egyptian culture on their way of life. We as believers in Jesus Christ have likewise been delivered from bondage to Satan and the World. But our deliverance doesn’t come through obedience to a list of commands carved on stone, but by submission to the Spirit of God as He writes the character of Jesus Christ on our hearts.
Until the transformation of our bodies at the return of Christ we are called to fight the good fight of faith. We are to be like Joshua’s generation. We are to go in and possess the land. We must not make any compromise with the enemy, or it will later become a thorn in our side. The people of Israel allowed the Philistines to stay in the land as their servants. We are also tempted to keep some “pet sins” close by. But in the Promised Land the Philistine servants eventually became the masters. And in our lives complacency will lead to our downfall.
Though we are being changed we must fight for the change; we must be active in our transformation. We must put off the old man, and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 422-24). We must put to death the misdeeds of the body and make no provision for the Flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom. 8:13, 13:14).
And though we have experienced some victories and have taken some land, we must not imagine that we no longer need the work of God’s Spirit within us. The maintaining of the land we have already taken is dependent on our continual faith in, and submission to, the Spirit of the Lord. We have not yet inherited all that God has for us. We have a long way to go. We must press on toward the goal until we see Jesus face to face and are changed completely and eternally into his glorious image.