Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spiritual Warfare (Part 2): Warring Against The Flesh


When things go wrong, most of the time religious people blame unseen demons around them. Little do we know that Satan isn't the only enemy we are up against. We have this flesh deep inside of us. And I do hope I could sufficiently stress its force in this second part of Spiritual Warfare series.

A. Discerning the Flesh
First off, let me clarify that the term "flesh", depending on the context, could mean two things in the Bible. Sometimes it refers to 1) our physical body (1 Pet. 1:24); sometimes to 2) the old sinful nature or the natural inclination to sin (e.g., Gal. 3:3). In the former sense, flesh is not intrinsically evil. In the latter sense, it is. Remember that the second definition is what we're referring here.
"Indwelling sin [or, the flesh] in the believer is the old man who must be killed, with all his faculties, properties, wisdom, craft, subtlety, and strength. Its power, life, vigor, and strength must be destroyed and slain by the cross of Christ." (John Owen)

1. Dethroned from the believers' life (Gal. 2:20)
"Dethroned" implies that it was once sitting on the throne, reigning in our lives. Paul says 'sin' (as an influence)  is the unbelievers' path where we 'once walked' (Eph. 2:1), and that the 'I' (i.e., the old self) 'no longer lives' but the 'I' (i.e., the new self) lives 'by faith in the Son of God' (Gal. 2:20). John teaches that the 'born again' ones, despite their rebirth's mysterious origin, have their transformed lives evident like a blowing wind. (Jn. 3:5-8) In another letter he said that genuine Christians do not practice a sinful lifestyle. (1 Jn. 3:4-6) So if you are someone whose lifestyle demonstrates an unrepentant, passionate pursuit of the pleasures of sins, showing no positive change at all, you have not been truly saved. Because, generally though not equally, true followers of Christ bear fruit (Jn. 15:5).

2. Dwelling inside the believers (Rom. 7:17; Heb. 12:2)
But just because sin was dethroned, it doesn't mean it's already dead.Many theologians call it "Indwelling Sin", acknowledging its continual residence in the believer. In Paul's terminology, when we were unbelievers we were 'in the flesh' (Rom. 7:5; 8:9). Now that we're Christians the flesh is 'in [us]'. (Rom. 7:17) In fact, so dangerous is this "resident evil" that Paul himself, calling it a law, testified of its captivating power and its 24/7 onslaught. (Rom. 7:21-23) Even if one will disagree with my interpretation of Romans 7[1], the over-all tone of the scriptures regarding the saints' spiritual struggle affirms the remaining power of sin in our lives (e.g., Heb. 3:13; 12:1).

More than that, experience can confirm it. It would be hypocritical for me to trivialize the gravity of my inner struggle. I confess that there are times (many times!) I fall into pride and sexual lust. These are the same sins with which I struggle ever since I became a Christian and the same sins which I treasured when I was an unbeliever!

3. Different from God's Spirit (Rom. 8:5; Gal. 5:16-17)
The enmity and tension can be heightened if we note that God the Holy Spirit resides in us also and that His desires are in complete contrary to the flesh. The flesh is not just our enemy, it is God's. Everytime we embrace the flesh, we dishonor our thrice-holy yet imminent God. In the same way, everytime we fail to follow the Spirit, we are following this obnoxious, good-for-nothing flesh.

4. Defiant to God's authority and law (Rom. 8:7-8)
The flesh is like a rebel in our system, a mad guerrilla opposing Christ's kingdom of grace. Like as a rebel, it does not wait until you're ready, it takes advantage of our weakness. Like a rebel, we should expect its continual schemes and surprising ploys. As J.I. Packer puts it,
"Sin is always at work in the heart; a temporary lull in its assaults means not that it is dead; but that it is very much alive."
Like a rebel, it defies the law of God. It will take your mind and heart as far as it can from God's word.

5. Deceitful and Destructive (Rom. 8:6; Jas. 1:15)
This dethroned guerrilla is very able to destroy our spiritual bulwarks and fortresses! It could make us 'carnal' and keep us from growing (see 1 Cor. 3:1-3) and 'running well' (Gal. 5:7ff) It could contaminate others (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9), divide the church (1 Cor. 3:4) and destroy relationships (1 Cor. 6). Like David, it could even make us commit heinous crimes (like murder and adultery) which, albeit forgivable[2], could bring disastrous consequences to ourselves and to others (2 Sam. 11 cf. Psa. 51). This is the same sin which will put many professing Christians to eternal death.

B. Defeating the Flesh
Now we are ready to give some pointers to defeat this foe.

1. Guard your Mind (Jas. 1:14-15; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:1-4)
The anatomy of sin was stated by the apostle James. Before the flesh seduces the affection and conceives actual sin, it first deceives the mind. The Greek word even alludes to fishing. Giving in to the flesh is being like a fish biting a colorful butterfly, not knowing she was hooked. If the mind then is the gate of our souls, we should barricade and fortify it. Fill it with the thoughts of Christ's beauty (Col. 3:1-4) and Christlike thoughts. (Phil. 4:8) Immerse your mind in the Bible and spiritual books rather than in senseless TV shows. Search for godly conversations and avoid disparaging chitchats. Let the beauty of the cross of Christ satisfy you rather than the fleeting pleasures of sin. 
"Your mind can only protect against the deceit of the flesh if you are cross-eyed.  That is, you can only keep the rottenness of sin and the kindness of God in mind if you fix your eyes on the cross.  What shows God's hatred of sin more than the cross?  What show's God's love to you more than the cross?  If you want to know exactly what sin deserves, you have to understand the cross.  If you want to know how infinitely deep the rot of sin reaches, you have to think through all the implications of the cross.  If you want to know how far God was willing to go to rescue you from sin, you have to see his precious Son hanging on the cross for you." (Kris Lundgaard)

2. Grip on the Spirit (Rom. 8:16)
Theological understanding of sin, however helpful it is, is never enough. We need to draw the power from God's Spirit. We need a daily, heartfelt communion with God. As Erwin Lutzer says, 
"The victory over sin that you seek will come from your relationship with God. When you seek to know God and love Him with your whole mind, heart, and soul, the freedom you are looking for will become yours." 
So a healthy prayer life and constant meditation must be added.

3. Give your All (Rom. 7:23; 8:13; Col 3:5)
The terms "waging war", "enmity" and "mortify (kill)" imply vigilance and violence. The prince of puritan John Owen puts it this way, "Not to conquer sin is to be conquered by sin." and "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." We should have a wartime mindset. As John Piper puts it,
"Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of religion. If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you will live. Christianity is war. On our own sinful impulses."
4. Get Practical (1 Thess. 5:22)
So much can be said here. Avoid the places and circumstances where you are tempted most. Be accountable to others and let them pray and oversee you. Get busy in doing good things. Develop your spiritual habits purposely by having reading plans, drafting prayer schedules, journaling, and the like. Make radical, practical and personal resolves for you not to fall into your own weaknesses. Be practical.

Now I'm done expounding my outline. I scanned my books, thinking I might have missed something important. And as expected, I missed a lot! I guess its impossible to sum them all up in a single post. The best thing I can do, then, is to compel you to read more hamartiological books[3]. There's so much more to learn to mortify this monster.

[1] I am aware of the difficulty of this chapter and the differences of interpretation under the evangelical umbrella. I am more persuaded, though, that the man of Romans 7 is indeed the already-Christian Paul, struggling with his old sinful nature.
[2] Heb. 10:12-14. The Catholic doctrine of mortal sin is unbiblical.
[3] I recommend the following:
a) John Owen's Triumph Over Temptation - for an in-depth spiritual analysis of the flesh's nature and work.
b) Joshua Harris's Not Even a Hint - for practical, easy-to-read guide to defeat lust
c) Erwin Lutzer's Winning The Inner War - very pastoral, filled with spiritual nuggets to overcome temptation
d) Kris Lundgaard's The Enemy Within  - contemporary restatements of Owen's hamartiological treatises
e) Sam Storms's Pleasures Evermore - elaborates the joy available in Christ as an antidote for sin

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Parody: Thessalonians

(a parody of Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton)
Acts 2:9-11; Jn. 14:1-4; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-53

Making Your way back home
Taken up
With a cloud
And then You're gone

Stunning angels appeared
They're saying someday
In the same way
You'll come back

And when it's due
time, we'll meet You
The world will wonder

We'll all be caught
Up in the sky
When You come down
With a great cry
Cause we hope, like the Thessalonians,
To someday be with You for life

There are many deists
They're deriding You
And they utter that You desert us coldly

Yet You prepare our home
Where we all belong
Living in Your mansions we would be

So just where You
are, we're there too
With you forever

We'll all be caught
Up in the sky
Alive Christians
And ones who died, oh
Chapter four of First Thessalonians
Says we would all see You arrive

And come, come with an archangel's voice,
(with) a sound of trumpet of Yahweh,
(with) a loud command, oh we implore
Come now Lord.

There in mid-air's a throng
From all tribes
And all tongues
And it's awesome

Still we'll greatly be thrilled
Just seeing Your face
Seeing Your flesh

And I believe You
And I still wait to
Behold that wonder

We'll be transformed
In blink of an eye
Last trumpet sounds
The dead will rise
Cause we hope, like the Thessalonians,
To someday just see You
We'll all be caught
Up in the sky
When You come down
We all will fly
Cause we hope, like the Thessalonians,
To someday be with You
To someday behold You for life

Monday, May 21, 2012

D.A. Carson on The Problem of Weak Faith

I've been listening to D.A. Carson these past few months and on a certain Q&A portion on the book of Hebrews, I find this theological (and spiritual) nugget quite helpful.

Question (from one of the audience):
"Sometimes I feel my faith is very weak. Does that mean that it is not God-given, and that it's just me trying to believe?"

Here's Carson's reply:
"Probably not. The important thing to remember is that faith's ultimate strength does not depend on the faith but on faith's Object. You're saved not on the basis of how strong your faith is but on the reliability of faith's Object, which in fact you may cling to still pretty weakly. And ultimately, the stronger you see, the more clearly you see that at the end of the day it's not the strength of your faith that is the crucial thing but the reliability and truth that's in the faith's Object that is the crucial thing, the more you'll be driven to having stronger faith. Because if you're trying to strengthen your faith by simply turning up your stomach muscles to believe more strongly then you're wanting the faith to be thing that is the crucial ingredient rather than faith's Object. At the end of the day, you're saved by faith in the sense that faith is the means of salvation. But you're not saved by faith in the abstract, you're saved by Christ. You're saved by the correct Object of faith, namely, Christ and Christ crucified, and so on. So the way you will strengthen your faith is not by simply turning up your stomach muscles to try harder to believe. The way you'll strengthen your faith is by studying Christ. And the more you understand him and his cross' worth in the scriptures... the more you'll strengthen your faith."

Without the elaborate relationship of faith, Christ and salvation, I think another theologian sufficiently answered with these words:
"...the weakest faith gets the same strong Christ as does the strongest faith." ~ Sinclair Ferguson

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spiritual Warfare (Part 1): Warring Against Satan

The Bible in Eph. 6:10-12 pictures the Christian as a soldier in a spiritual warfare. And one of the fundamentals in war is to know your enemy.

The Bible presents three enemies of Christians:
1) The Supernatural Enemy: Satan (Jas. 4:7)
2) The Indwelling Enemy: Flesh (Rom. 8:16-18)
3) The System Enemy: The World (1 Jn. 2:15-17)

Though these three are inseparable in battle, discerning them individually would arm us more with vigilance. This is the first of a three-part series. It is in no way exhaustive[1] but I think it can offer some helpful information.


First, we shall try to describe Satan according to the scriptures.

1. Wicked Destroyer (1 Pet. 5:8-9)
We maybe are in a modern world where human intellect is exceptional and our technology is superb but Christianity never changes in its teaching that supernatural, evil beings are real. Martin Lloyd-Jones emphatically stated:
"I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking..."

We dare not ignore this destructive fiend. Even during Job's time, he was zealously "going to and fro on the earth" (Job 1:7), looking for opportunities to destroy God's people. (Job 2:2) How much more now that his time is short?

It wasn't arbitrary that, according to 1 Pet. 5:8-9, he was described as a lion[2] and not a dog. He is fierce and strong, unstoppable by mere human strength. We cannot defeat him on our own. He lurks to catch us unaware. Of course, he isn't omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent but he has a bunch of agents to work for him day and night. It is his greatest ambition to spoil God's work, hence, he gives his all to destroy God's people. In some restricted sense, he even has the power death. (Heb. 2:4)

2. Wise Deceiver (2 Cor. 11:13-15)
Aside from his supernatural strength, his malicious wit brings mankind to ruin. If God is a Being of truth from start to end, Satan is the opposite. From the very beginning, we find him successful in deceiving Eve (Gen. 3), damning us all to sin and death (Rom. 5:12). At the end of time, he will energize the man of sin, the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:1-10 cf. Rev. 13:1-8) who will deceive the nations.

He is the same in the present. He blinds the mind of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4) He wasn't called "The Accuser of the Brethren" (Rev. 12:10) or "the Tempter" (Mt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5) for nothing. In John's apocalyptic vision, the Devil wrathfully pursues the community of faith[3]. The word "Devil" itself means "accuser" or "slanderer". He slanders us to God and slanders God to us. He is the king of malice and deceit. He deceives the whole world. (Rev. 12:9)

His deceitful schemes are not easy to unveil. He could've been doing it by suggesting evil thoughts on our minds (in a supernatural way), perhaps somehow similar to Christ's temptation. (Mt. 4; Lk. 4) More similar is the case of Peter (Lk. 22:31-34) or of Ananias (Acts 5:2) He could also do it by putting us into unfavorable circumstances to fan the evil inside us. Such is the case when he struck Job with illness and other miseries, or when he planted Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7). What's surer, however, is that he spares no one and tries to deceive God's children of all times. Adam and Eve at their perfect state doubted God and fell for his facade. Peter, the leader of the Twelve, after being called "Blessed", was demonized and opposed Christ's atonement.

There's one more hazardous tactic Satan uses today, namely, spreading false teachers (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Such people are not only in the world (2 Jn. 1:7) but are also inside the four corners of our worship assembly! (2 Pet. 2:1-2) It's not just a warning. Both Peter and Paul said it is going to happen. More fearful is the fact that "many will follow them...". This inner deception is a fruit of one error: ignorance of God's word (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Oh woe to the modern church for undermining the significance of doctrine and embracing heresies like universalism! Not all who hold a Bible and stand on the pulpit inside our churches are of God! They could be the devil's. We should learn how to test the Spirit (1 Jn. 4) the way the Bereans did (Acts 17:11).

3. World Dominator (2 Cor. 4:4)
Jesus called him “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31) Paul called him "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4) and "prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2). These text give us the stern warning that we are behind enemy lines. We live in Satan's territory.

So true is the inference of Dr. Robert Duncan Culver,
"It follows that the world - as cosmos, arranged in a certain way - will reflect the devil's policies and is therefore a very dangerous place in which to dwell (spiritually, morally, physically), especially to rear our children! (Should we expect their schooling under worldly government aegis to reflect godly principles?)"
Yet how often do we expose our children unguided to television and the internet? How often do we love superficial trendiness? How often are we aware that Satan could influence the academe, legal courts and government institutions the same way as he could influence false religions and criminals? I am not suggesting that we should live a fearful, Amish life but practice a cautious lifestyle with a pilgrim mindset.

Now, there are two wrong actions we could undertake. One is to overestimate Satan. The other is to underestimate him. I offer two biblical truths we should mind to avoid such extremes.

1. Remember that the Cross of Christ Assured Satan's Final Defeat (Col. 2:8,14,15)
Some people unconsciously buy the heresy of dualism. That is, the belief that there are two equal powers in the world (good and bad). When tragedies and other unpleasant things ensue, they always attribute it to the devil, as though God is not in-control. But that is unbiblical. God has always been sovereign over everything (Psa. 103:19). Satan cannot do anything apart from God's permission (Job 1:12,2:6).

Aside from that, Satan's defeat is ascertained. Even before Christ's career, Satan already failed to tempt Christ (Mt. 4:1-11). During Christ's ministry, he saw Satan "fall like lightning" (Lk. 10:17-18). As Christ's death approaches, he said Satan has already been judged (Jn. 16:11). Finally, at the cross, Christ triumphed over all demonic "principalities and powers" (Col. 2:15). Let us cast out unneccesary fear for him.

2. Remember that the Armor of God Assures Satan's Daily Defeat (Eph 6:13-18)
But making fun of the devil is not a wise alternative. We best join Michael in respecting the devil (Jude 8,9), not speaking presumptuously about him. We should acknowledge his might and seriously resist him by putting on God's panoply everyday.

Finally, let us remember that Christ taught his disciples to pray "deliver us from the Evil One" daily. We are in a war. Against an extraordinary foe. Only by grace will we win this.

[1] D.A. Carson said, "There's a huge amount of details that we do not know so I'm again a little suspicious of... detailed angelology."
[2] In Rev. 12 Satan was even deemed as a "Dragon", more destructive than a lion.
[3] Such term is acceptable whether you interpret the woman to be the nation Israel or the universal Church