Cheryl & I have a family “Messenger Chat” with our kids, so we can keep posted on all our goings on in the family, and we often send pictures back and forth. It’s really one of the best things we do on Facebook. The other day our son David sent a picture of him playing the board game “Risk” with his kids for the first time. Of course he ended up winning. But I told him to enjoy it while he could. I used to always win, until our kids figured out the best way to give themselves a chance was to all gang up and knock me out first, and I don’t think I’ve ever won since!
This is similar to something we each have to go through every day in life. I’m thinking you probably already sense this; but you don’t get to just “cruise” through life, do you? No, we’ve got enemies who are fighting us every step along the way. The old English Book of Common Prayer from back in the 1500’s has a prayer that says: “From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord deliver us.” So for centuries, “the world, the flesh, and the devil” have been recognized by Christians as the forces that are teaming up against us spiritually, to fight against us as we try to walk with the Lord.
As we were doing our daily Bible readings this week, I came across James 3:15, where James told his readers that the “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” among them was not from above, but is “earthly, natural, demonic.” I thought, wait a minute: this is: “the world, the flesh, and the devil” Christians have talked about all these years:
— “earthly” — of course means from “the world”
— “natural” — means from the “natural man,” the “flesh”
— And of course “demonic” is from “the devil.”
So this verse in James gives us a scriptural basis for seeing our enemies in the framework of “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
And it’s not only here; we also see it in the first verses of Ephesians 2:2-3 which has all 3 also. It speaks of:
— “the course of this world”;
— “the passions of our flesh”
— “the prince of the power of the air;”
So here it is again, isn’t it? “The world, the flesh, the devil.” Same three enemies. (And of course there are many other scriptures that address them individually as well.)
So I was already leaning towards preaching on this verse today, and then in staff meeting Monday morning, as we were sharing from our Bible readings, Kyle shared this exact same verse, and I thought: ok this must be the scripture text God has for us this Sunday! So let’s look at what His word identifies for us as the three enemies we each face in our spiritual walk every day: “The World, The Flesh, and The Devil.”
One of the first things this reminds us — and many of us need this reminder today — is that we DO have these enemies that we face every day. Don’t ever think you just get up every day in a “neutral” world and coast along in life. No, if you are a Christian: which means you are trying to follow Jesus every day, you need to realize you are not doing that without opposition. You have serious spiritual enemies working against you every day, which you need to be aware of if you are going to be successful in following Christ. So what are these enemies?
I. “The World.”
The Bible word James uses here is Epi-geios, “upon,” “earth”. From the world. Ephesians 2:2 calls it “the course of this world.” This is the whole world system; the way of the world, as opposed to the way of God.
It’s popular opinion; it’s the media; it’s popular culture: it’s the whole way of doing things in “the world.” It’s what “everyone does.” And it’s what WE will do, if we do not purposefully choose to do otherwise.
We talked about this some last Sunday. We as Christians are trying to follow God, but the whole course, the whole “current,” if you would, of this world, is going in the other direction — away from God. So as long we are living in this world, we are “swimming upstream” against the “current” of culture. We’re “running against the wind” in a sense.
I had to stop running for exercise because I kept getting hurt. But I ran for years, and one of the hardest things to me — and I think many runners find this — was running into the wind. Especially when it’s just a constant headwind, 20-30 miles an hour. It just wears you out going against it ALL THE TIME!
That continual “running into the wind” is a picture of the battle each of us as Christians faces every day in this world. The whole world value system tries to get us to live in a way that is almost always the exact opposite of what God wants us to do. We constantly have to fight it. It’s:
— popular opinion
— all the sayings “everybody” takes to be true
— it’s the prevalent moral and sexual practices:
— it’s the media, constantly feeding you “the way of the world.”
— just the whole value system: telling you what is important.
And these things are constantly bombarding us with the way of the world.
Let’s take for example a so-called “typical” Christian person’s day:
— they see a tv show at night, that presents homosexual characters as the most natural thing in the world.
— then they watch the news before they go to bed, which goes out of its way to show how irrational people who believe in the right to life are.
— then they get up in the morning and read the paper or get a flash on their app: there’s a hurricane watch; everyone’s anxious and on edge!
— then they go to work, where everybody’s trying to undermine each other so they can get ahead
— on the way home they have to fight self-centered drivers the whole way, and they stop at the store where the shoppers push to get in line first.
— they look at the magazine rack at the store or the billboard on the way home and there’s temptation staring at them right in the face …
IT’S THE WORLD, isn’t it? And it NEVER STOPS. It is like a continual barrage; a constant headwind, and it is always working against us.
As Christians, God is calling us to be the opposite of the world. Jesus said: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25-26) Jesus said His followers are to have opposite attitudes and actions to what we see in the world system.
— The Proverbs we’re reading right now show us we are to be the opposite of the world system: NOT like the fool but like the wise man; NOT like the wicked, but like the righteous. We’re to be the opposite of what this world system is pushing us to be. God’s people are to be different — but we have to really “fight against the current” of the world to do it! We can’t get “comfortable” with it. That’s actually one of our biggest problems: getting too comfortable with our world surroundings. If we do, we’ll just get carried off along with it.
That’s one of the dangers of the technological world we live in right now. It is so easy to get totally immersed in this world system and its values, and never get away from it: television, internet, smartphones — it’s possible to literally never be away from it and its all-encompassing, life-changing influence!
That’s one of the reasons why you can’t be a good Christian by just spending an hour a week at church! Somebody says: Well, I gave my life to the Lord, and I go to church most every Sunday morning. That’s super! But say you go to church an hour a week — or maybe you even go to Sunday school and Wednesday night too, maybe 2-3 hours if you’re a “really” good Christian — what is that out of your ONE HUNDRED SIXTY EIGHT hour week? It’s a fraction. How many hours is the world feeding you on television? How many hours are the world’s search engines putting their propaganda in front of you on the internet? How many hours do you spend with people pouring into you their worldly attitudes and advice?
This is why you can’t just rely on coming to church an hour or two to “fix” you spiritually. This is why you can’t just drop your kids off to youth or children’s ministry an hour a week and think they’re gonna be ok. No matter what we do here, it’s not enough. We’ve GOT to:
1) LIMIT the impact of the world system on ourselves and our families. Limit tv, internet, worldly input in every way you can. You can’t get out of the world, but don’t get carried off by it. At least limit it!
2) If you’re serous about following Christ, you’ve got to SUPPLEMENT your spiritual input at home. You’ve got to add to your spiritual input with your own Bible reading, your own worship time, your own scripture memory, your own Christian music; and as much fellowship with Christian friends as you can get during the week, because the rest of the time, you are constantly running against the headwind of the world.
Listen: if sometimes it seems like the whole world’s fighting against you as a Christian, don’t think it isn’t! There’s a classic Christian hymn called, “Am I A Soldier of the Cross,” which asks a series of searching questions in the verses of the hymn. You ought to read and pray through it some time. But one of the verses asks the question: “Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?” James tells us here, the answer to that question is NO! This world is NOT “a friend to grace.” This world is not “helping you on to God.” This world is an enemy; it’s a continual headwind you face as you try to follow the Lord. You need to be aware of it, and you need to take steps to purposefully limit its influence on your life, lest you be carried away by it.
II. “The Flesh”
One of the big problems we face, is that our battle is not only against the outside world. There is a second enemy; James calls it here the “natural” or literally the “unspiritual” – our flesh.
— I Corinthians 15 repeatedly uses this word when it talks about our “natural, earthly” body, (as opposed to our spiritual body we will have one day.)
— I Corinthians 2:14 says “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God …”
This Bible word means the “physical,” “natural”, “lower” element of life; Thayer the Greek scholar says it’s what we have “in common with animal life; the sensual nature.”
And that lower, sensual nature wars in US, even as Christians. If you haven’t figured this out already, when you get saved, all your temptations to sin don’t go away, do they? No, when you get saved, you admit to God that you are sinner; you ask Him to forgive you because of Jesus’ death on the cross, and He forgives you, and He sends His Spirit into your life to help you follow Him. And now He is in you, and you love Him, but you still have your fleshly body; you still have and a mind and will and emotions that have been trained in this world system, and which will still want to give in to every kind of temptation.
So James says we not only have to face “the world” out there as an enemy every day; we also have to face our own lower self; our own “flesh,” that still remains with us even when we are saved.
So it is not just “the world;” it is our own flesh we often have to do battle against. Look back to James 1:13-14, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. BUT each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by HIS OWN LUSTS.” Then Chapter 4 opens up by saying, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is it not the pleasures which wage war in your members?” So James is saying, hey, don’t blame this sin on God. Don’t blame it on “the world” or the devil. He says, “You are carried away by your own lusts.”
Many times, we are our own worst enemies, aren’t we? We are not only fighting “the world,” we are also fighting our own flesh. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7 about the wrestlings he had in his own life. He said, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” He said there is a “war” being waged in my own life. Wretched man that I am!”, He said. He’s talking about the war against his own flesh! It is real, and it is one of the greatest enemies that we face: not the world, not the devil, but our own flesh.
We all face this. And it is so close to us, because it virtually “IS” is; it is often hard for us to recognize it. It’s so subtle; it seems so natural.
But I think one of the giveaway signs that your flesh is involved in the battle is: when you say things like: “I FEEL like … /or I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT.” You may actually “say” that — or you may NOT say it. But the truth is, our flesh wants to do what it wants to do. Jesus said to follow Him, we must DENY our SELF. That means we are NOT just to do whatever we want to or feel like doing. We are to be ruled by God’s word. That’s what it means to follow Christ. But our body, our old mind, our worldly emotions, our corrupted will, our bad habits, will say, “I know what God says, but I don’t feel like …” or “But I want to …”. See, that is the battle. That’s the whole thing right there. Are you going to do what you “feel” like doing, or what you know God says in His word that you should do? It isn’t “the world” making you do it; it isn’t “the devil made me do it.” This is YOU. This is YOUR FLESH. We need to realize that we don’t just have to fight the world and the devil; we often have to fight even against ourselves! It’s quite a realization. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
During the War of 1812, U.S. Commodore Perry famously wrote to tell his superiors of his victory over the British, and he said, “We have met the enemy, and he is ours.”
Back in the 1970’s, Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly put out what became a famous cartoon against pollution, changing Perry’s famous saying to: “We have met the enemy, and he is US!”
Honestly, there is a lot of truth to that. Many of us as Christians have become our own worst enemies. We have gotten lazy. We’ve just gotten into the habit of doing whatever we “want” to do, or “feel” like doing, instead of what we KNOW that GOD wants us to do. We’ve got to realize we are in a battle against ourselves, and we need to start fighting that battle. We need to discipline ourselves — and “discipline” means basically fighting against yourself: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Discipline means you don’t do what you necessarily “feel” like doing, but what you KNOW God wants you to do. And when we don’t “feel” like doing what God says, we need to call out to Him to help us. We need to get in the habit of asking Him to help us all through the day. We should constantly be saying quick prayers asking God to help. Memorize a quick “go-to” verse, like Psalm 30:10, “Lord be my help.” Get in the habit of asking God to help you do what you KNOW HE wants you to do; not just what your flesh FEELS like doing.
But I think this can be an important eye-opener for some of us to realize: the battle’s not just “out there;” it’s in here. “We have met the enemy and he is US!” One of the biggest enemies we have, is our own flesh!
III. “The Devil.”
There is a third enemy the Bible says we face as we follow Christ, and that is the devil. James uses the word here: DAI-MON-EE-AH-DEES. “Daimoniodes,” or “demonic.” God says there are real, evil, spiritual forces in this world that we have to do battle with.
One of the reasons why I like this expression, “the world, the flesh, and the devil” is that it gives us a very BALANCED framework for the battles we face as Christians — especially regarding the devil and demons. People often go to one of two extremes regarding spiritual forces:
— either they ignore them, as if there WERE no devil or demons, or
— they see “a demon behind every bush”, and talk about every single thing that happens as if the devil did it.
Both of these views are imbalanced. Every trouble we face in life is not caused by the devil or a demon. As we have seen, some of it is just our world system. Some of it, honestly, we just bring upon ourselves. If you don’t put any oil in your car for 3 years, and your engine burns up, don’t say, “Boy, the devil sure is messing with my car!” No, you did a pretty good job of that yourself! The devil didn’t have anything to do with it! And there’s a lot of things like that. Don’t blame the devil or demons for everything.
But on the other hand, James does say here in :15 that there is “demonic” influence at work against us. The context here in James 3 is he is talking about pride, and jealousy, among God’s people. The devil loves to try to divide God’s people. We need to be very aware of this — especially when God is working in a church, like He is ours. Don’t let Satan use you to start something hurtful or divisive in the church. We know he wants to do that; Paul says “Don’t be ignorant of his schemes.” We need to be aware of it. We are not only fighting not only “the world” and “the flesh,” but also the devil and the demons. Don’t be ignorant of that.
C.S. Lewis wrote that one of the tactics of the devil and demons is (as he called it) to “give us an anesthetic” regarding their existence; to make us think they aren’t real. You can’t be effective against an enemy you aren’t aware of!
So we need to be balanced, and realize that NOT all of our difficulties are caused by demons, but that there ARE real, spiritual forces which really do work against us. Ephesians 6:12 says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but agains the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The Bible says there definitely ARE “spiritual forces of wickedness” which are warring against us every day.
That’s why Ephesians 6:13 goes on to say: “THEREFORE” — because we are facing this real, spiritual, enemy every day — you need to “take up the full armor of God.” If you knew that you were going to face a physical enemy as soon as you stepped out of your house in the morning; if you knew there would be someone literally shooting arrows at you when you opened your door; you would not DREAM of stepping out of your house without putting on your armor first, and holding up a shield and being very watchful as you left your house. You’d be careful to guard against that enemy.
I’m reading an amazing book right now, of interviews of U.S. soldiers from World War II who share their memories from the war. One of the most dramatic so far was by Peter Bezich, an infantryman from Chicago. He went to the Philippines where he and his unit were being relieved after several days in foxholes on the front line. On his way back, he came under fire by a sniper. Every time he tried to move, a bullet would hit close by. So he got into the lowest depression in the ground he could. He stayed low. He finally put his helmet on a stick and leaned it one way and took crawling off the other way, and he wriggled his way out. He KNEW he had an enemy who actively had him in his sights, and was trying to kill him.
You and I need to realize that WE HAVE AN ENEMY WHO IS DOING THE SAME THING. He has us “in his sights,” and he is TRYING TO KILL US SPIRITUALLY. And he is after us every day. But most of us don’t realize it. We don’t often take it that seriously. Maybe it’s because we can’t “see” our enemy; we can’t “see” the darts and arrows he is hurling at us: the arrows of fear and anxiety, and discouragement, and doubt, and temptation, false doctrines, evil thoughts; all the spiritual oppression he hits us with. You aren’t just “feeling” these things; they are real. And many of us know them very well.
The Bible says there is a REAL spiritual enemy opposing us — and because of that, we’ve got to be serious about it. THERE IS A SNIPER AFTER YOU EVERY DAY! You need to be as serious and consistent about putting your spiritual armor of God’s word & prayer in the morning as Peter Bezich was dodging those bullets in the Philippines. Your enemy is just as real — you just can’t see him. You’ve got to get up and get God’s word into your life every morning; pray; ask for His help and His spiritual protection. Do not get up and try to face the day without your spiritual armor. Don’t you think of leaving home without it!
YOU need that spiritual protection every day — and so do the people you care about. There is a sniper after your family every day. Some of you know this very well right now. You’re seeing it. That’s why it’s so crucial right now for us to rededicate ourselves to pray for ourselves and our loved ones every day. Because we are not at peace in this world; we are at war. We need to realize we are at war, and we need to fight that war with the power of God’s Holy Spirit through His word and prayer.
The particular battle you are facing in your life right now may primarily be a battle against the world; just the whole world system. Or maybe it’s a battle against your own flesh. It could be the devil or demonic. Or it could be ALL THREE: all three of them were present in the situation here in James 3, weren’t they? He says this problem they were having was “earthly, natural, demonic;” all three: “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” I think that’s the way it is a lot of times; it’s all three ganging up on us: we’re fighting the whole world system, we’re fighting our own flesh — and then we’re fighting the devil or his demonic powers too!
It’s a lot; it’s like when my boys ganged up against me; you can’t beat it. Not on your own. But I John 4:4 says, “Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.” Don’t despair. If Jesus is your Savior — and that’s the big “IF” you need to make sure of today — if He’s your Savior, He’s with you, He’s IN you, and He’ll help you.
But you’ve got to take this seriously. You’ve got to be aware of what you are up against every day. And you need to take some of these specific steps we talked about today, to fight this battle. You ARE in a battle, every single day you live, against “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
— The biggest thing some of us need to come away with today, is that it’s time to stop thinking you can just “coast” through life. You’re in a war, and you need to realize it. The enemy is fighting you; it’s time for YOU to actively fight back!
— The way you fight back is first in prayer. Pray right now for yourself: God help me “fight the good fight” against the world, the flesh, & the devil:
— ask God to show you any ways you’ve fallen into the “world system” and ask Him to forgive you for it. Ask Him to help you do what HE wants you to do, not what you “feel” like doing. LIMIT your input/SUPPLEMENT
— ask Him to help you get up each morning and put on your “spiritual armor” against the enemy.
— Some of us need to memorize scriptures to fight specific areas
— And pray against “the world, the flesh, and the devil” in the life of someone you care about.
— Most importantly, do you know that you have the ultimate victory, because “greater is He who is in you …” Is Jesus your Savior?