Is it the Enemy or the Flesh?

Here is the main body of an email I sent while on a trip in Germany a few weeks ago.  It’s a bit raw, just letting my thoughts flow, but some people found it helpful:

God has been shaping my understanding of some things lately, so I thought
I’d share.

It is in the realm of recognizing that not every temptation or attack comes
from the enemy, Satan, which puts a new twist in my mind about taking
responsibility and self-discipline. God has also been reshaping my
understanding of spiritual warfare and how it relates to personal
purity/keeping my covenant relationships.

First, matters of the flesh vs. outside attack. God has been showing me that
I have been too quick to label every temptation, every intruding thought,
every accidental glimpse of something I shouldn’t see, as an attack from the
enemy. That attitude is really a form of  blame-shifting, refusing to take
responsibility to discipline myself, and actually taking on a victim
mentality.

Read Romans 7 carefully. For example, it says, “For I know that nothing good
dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is
right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18 ESV)

Paul is fully aware that he has to battle the sin that still dwells in his
flesh. He doesn’t blame Satan for the temptations and failure to do what he
wants – he blames himself, in this passage.

Romans 8 is full of commentary on the battle with the flesh. I think it is
summed up well by “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but
if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
(Romans 8:13 ESV)”

We have to put to death the flesh, made possible by the power of the Spirit!
(Which, by the way, is what brokenness and humility is all about – letting
God’s Spirit direct us in all we do instead of deciding for ourselves what
is best). See 1 Cor 9. This Christian life, this attitude and lifestyle of
openness, brokenness, and humility is a long, long distance race, not a
one-time life change followed by a stroll in the garden: “But I discipline
my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself
should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV)”

Obviously, we are also under attack from without: “For we do not wrestle
against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual
forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)”. I don’t mean
at all to minimize or discount the role the enemy and his minions play in
our lives.

I’m just saying, God is teaching me to take a hard look at the temptations
and failings in my life, to see where it is my flesh rearing up, or when it
is an attack from without.

If I were to continue running to Marla with the story, “I saw an immodestly
dressed girl, and Satan filled my head with intruding thoughts!” or,
“Someone brought donuts in to work and the enemy whispered in my ear that I
should eat one,” or whatever else, always painting myself as the poor victim
of attack, she will give up hope after a while. There will never be any real
change in my life, because I’m claiming most of the problem is external. I
am seeing that if I truly want to change, to have true freedom for the long
haul, I have to acknowledge my flesh, so that I can bring it into
submission by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Well, this is no longer an email, but rather a dissertation. I hope I
articulated it well enough to get the idea across. I’ll leave the second
topic for another email.

 

George

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