When I met Jesus in 1973, I found the reason and purpose for existence. Jesus, Lord of Lords and King of Kings loved me, and ransomed me from a death penalty and I knew I would live in His kingdom forever. I thought that was the end of the struggle. I was unprepared for conflict. As a young Christian, I had not considered two very important things seriously enough. First, after we are born again spiritually we still live in fallen bodies made of flesh, which war against our spirit. Second, we are in a spiritual battle with a very formidable enemy who hates God and all of His “image bearers.”

My “flesh nature,” which is often called the “old man” in scripture, is attracted to a variety of things that feels good, but if I indulge my lust, it separates me from God’s presence. Continual sin hardens the heart (Hebrews 3:12, 13). It sears the conscience
(1 Timothy 4:2). The Greek word translated as hardened could also be rendered as stupid, stubborn, tough, fierce or calloused. We create a stony fortress around the very place that God is trying to get through by indulging in repeated vice and immorality until we can no longer hear His voice in the conscience of our heart. I speak from experience. I understand what it is to become deaf and blind to my Lord. It is really difficult for me to go back to this time in my life and I would not mention it if I did not think there were many frustrated and defeated brothers and sisters who need this word. If this does not apply to you, praise God, but I counsel you to guard your heart. The bible makes it clear that everyone must confront this issue. The apostle Paul dealt with this in his own life. He wrote about it in his letter to the Christians in Rome. (Romans 7:14-25)

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

This passage might be made clearer to you by Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the scriptures titled, The Message. He puts that same passage of scripture this way.

I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself-after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Paul was responsible for writing 13 books of the bible, 14 if Hebrews was penned by him as many concede it probably was. He was the apostle to the gentiles and the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which is the history of the early church, documents his missionary journeys from chapter 9 through 28. So, if this spiritual giant had troubles with the flesh and spirit, it is obvious that every one of us will also fight this battle. God has shown me where I tripped up in years past. This may help you in your struggle.

Temptation begins in our thought life. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5: 27, 28) Where was the adultery committed? In the heart. Way before the possibility of actual sex, there was a thought, and while you are contemplating it and turning it over and over in your mind, you have the option to do something proactive about it. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, He answered him with scripture. This is what each of us must do, when presented with the thought that you know is wrong, because the thought always precedes the action. No man ever found himself in bed with a woman who is not his wife without some amount of flirting and fantasizing about the possibilities. This often leads to the devious planning of liaisons to enable the fantasy to become real. The mind is the battleground. I use 2 Corinthians 10: 3-6 as an offensive weapon against temptation.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.”

This is how I have learned to fight temptation in my thought life. For example, suppose I am playing a concert or club, and I spot a beautiful woman in the audience. God made beautiful men and women and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that and going on with your business. But, when I find my eyes returning to her, there will be an opportunity for fantasy that could actually turn into a very bad scene if I allow it. Particularly if our eyes meet and she is being tempted just like I am. When that happens, I actually quote part of 2 Corinthians 10: 5,“I bring this thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” If necessary, I say it several times and I find that it works. It really does take the thought captive. God’s word is the sword of the spirit, and it is a weapon to be used when our flesh or our enemy is tempting us. By the way, our adversary often delivers his punches in what we perceive as our thoughts. I don’t know how he does it, but I know he does. He is not omnipotent like God, but he has a lot of demons that do his bidding and know what our weaknesses are. Whether it is women or men, booze or drugs, lying, cheating, stealing, internet pornography, or any number of evils, when you have fallen, it seems like the opportunities just keep presenting themselves to do it over and over again. Now, I can understand my own attraction to sin, but I don’t think I am good looking enough or clever enough to manipulate situations as often as they have happened when I have been backslidden. My enemy knows what to do to push my buttons. How I respond is crucial.

Now, if you think you don’t have spiritual enemies, consider Paul’s statement to the Ephesians:

“Finally my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

(Ephesians 6:10-12)

That is very straight- forward. It is often not people that are our problem, but people that are manipulated by “principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” All of us can agree that our flesh and lust cause us difficulties, but I imagine some of you are skeptical of this spiritual warfare. Let’s take a look at whom Jesus called the father of lies, and the bible’s account of his beginning.

Thus says the Lord God: “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created. You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of god; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you.”

(Ezekiel 28:12-17)

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.” (Isaiah 14: 12-15)

When Jesus was speaking with the disciples after he sent them out to preach, he briefly mentioned seeing Satan’s fall.

Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:17, 18)

He continues and tells them not to glory over their power but to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. There is also an account of the war in heaven in Revelation 12: 7-9.

“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

In these accounts of Satan I want you to notice several things. He is a created being. He is not the “dark side of the force.” He is not Jesus’ brother or the opposite of God. He is a created being who had been given great power, was obviously very wise and beautiful. He had it going on. He was perfect until iniquity was found in him. He became proud and thought he was capable of taking over heaven. He actually convinced a lot of angels to side with him in this heavenly warfare. Now, consider that he still does the same thing. He convinces other created beings to side with him instead of God. He lies to us. He lied to Eve in the garden and Adam gave up his authority over the earth and eternal life with God just because he believed Satan rather than God. Of course, it seems to me God should have just destroyed him at the end of the heavenly battle and none of this earthly despair and crap would have happened. But, I am not God, and will not try to pretend that I understand much of what He does. All I know is that Satan is still around and doing the same thing to us he did to Adam and Eve.

He asked Eve, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” When she answered affirmatively, his response was, “You shall not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

Isn’t that the same thing he tells us today dressed up in modern language and made visible on almost every popular television program?

“Go ahead, smoke the dope, do the meth, screw your neighbor’s wife/husband, you will surely not die. Your eyes will be opened. You deserve it. Your own wife/husband doesn’t really understand you. Your parents are stupid. After all, you only go around once, go for the gusto. Be all that you can be. Have it your way. If it feels good, do it. It’s not a child; it’s a choice. You were born this way, it’s not wrong.”

Sound familiar? Why do you think Desperate Housewives, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or Sex in the City is so popular? Why are there so many divorces in the Christian church? Why are there pornography support groups in the church? Why did an important and successful congressman take bribes to give away defense contracts? Why did the President of the United States risk his career, reputation and marriage for a brief sexual encounter? Why do suicide bombers kill themselves and everyone around them?

I will tell you why. We are fallen beings that are easily manipulated by our own desires and lusts and will believe the lies of Satan because we don’t consider him a threat. Most importantly, though, we do not understand that we break the heart of God every time these things occur. We do not love Him enough or believe that He is really the Creator of everything and that He came to live in a human body without sin to die on the cross to ransom us from the kingdom of darkness and give us eternal life with Him. Believing is more than saying a one-time prayer at a Billy Graham Crusade, or going to church regularly or tithing or any of the religious things we associate with Christianity. Real belief in the sense that Jesus meant it is a passionate love affair with God. Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 23: 37) How else can that be viewed? What it means in regards to our discussion is that to do something that would offend Jesus should be the most horrible thing we could do. If you know something is wrong and you do it anyway, you have betrayed the faithful lover of your soul. Now what do you do?

Ironically, our first reaction is to run away and hide. That is what Adam and Eve did in Genesis. But when you have really blown it, don’t you feel shame and guilt, at least for a while? Even when we feel that way our nature makes it hard for us to own up to what we have done. Admitting and accepting responsibility is not easy. Who wants to face authority knowing you are guilty as charged? Whether it is a parent, the principal, the boss, a spouse or a judge, it is hard to confess guilt. And we all tend to see God as an upset father and a supreme judge who is going to render a harsh verdict. And because of that, we run away. Better to not even deal with it then face the consequences. We stop praying, reading the bible, hanging out with Christians and going to church. “God is so mad at me, He wouldn’t want me back anyway. After all, I may have committed the unpardonable sin. I might as well just keep living like hell because I have blown my chance with God.” These are thoughts come from the master of deceit and lies, your enemy the devil, whose ultimate plan is to keep you away from God your Father who wants nothing more than for you to come back home. He really does. He loves you so much He sent Jesus to die for you and every sin you would ever commit. He knows your trials and temptations. Jesus faced every one of them while He walked this earth. He is waiting for you to simply say, “I am sorry. I blew it big time. Please forgive me and wash away the shame and guilt. Let me start all over again. Renew a right spirit within me.” The apostle John summed it up:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

How much unrighteousness? Did Jesus die on the cross only for the sins I committed up to the point of my conversion? Or was His sacrifice sufficient for all the sins I will commit until I see Him in heaven?

The key factor in our relationship with Him is, knowing that He will forgive you if you confess it and repent. Repent means to stop doing it, to turn the other direction and stop going the way you are going. There is an account in John 8: 3-11 of a woman caught in the act of adultery who was brought to Jesus while He was teaching in the Jewish temple. The men who brought her wanted to see if He would be righteous like they were and consent to stoning her to death for her actions. Never mind that they didn’t bring the man she was with. After he wrote in the sand for a while, Jesus told them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” That took the wind out of their sails and they all left, but what I want you to pay attention to, is what he tells the woman.

“Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Go and sin no more. He did not rail at her, or make her feel like a whore, he showed her respect and gave her the advice she needed to hear. This is what Jesus would say to each of us caught in the act of ___________ (fill in the blank), “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more.” Isn’t that amazing? That is the gospel. It is the good news. God loves you so much He will forgive you for whatever and every time you screw up He only wants you to be immediately ready to repent. Don’t keep doing it. Listen to Jesus when He speaks to your heart. Fall madly in love with Him and do everything you can to show Him the passion you feel toward Him. When you finish reading this, immediately tell Him what is on your mind. Talk to Him as you would your husband, wife or best friend. It is the answer to all of life’s problems.

Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, for that is just how He feels about you.