16 April 2007

All that is in the world...

by Phil Johnson

eople love to blame the world or the devil when they do wrong, but there is never a time when other people—or even Satan himself—can lure us into sin unless our own fleshly depravity yields and cooperates with the world and the devil.

"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When Satan is successful in tempting us, it is invariably because we yield. We cannot escape the blame for our sin by claiming it was Satan or the world—rather than our own fleshliness—that drove us to sin. The world, the flesh and the devil all work together to tempt us, but when we sin, it is by definition our own fault.

During one of my trips to India a few years ago I met a college student who approached me after a meeting where I taught. He said he believed he was suffering under an intense Satanic attack, and he wondered if I knew of any special methods of spiritual warfare that could help rid his home and family of Satanic influences.

So I asked about the nature of the attack he was under. He said he was finding it impossible to get along with his mother. He said the two of them hardly ever spoke a civil word to one another, and it was destroying the peace of their household. He said he found it hard to study the Bible or grow spiritually as long as evil tension ruled the home environment. He was hoping I would tell him how he could get Satan out of his household.

I first asked him what made him think this problem was uniquely Satanic. As he described it to me, it sounded much more like raw carnal pride on both his part and his mother's. They were constantly saying unkind and unloving things to one another. He admitted that he purposely did things he knew would annoy her. He spoke disrespectfully to her. He stated quite clearly that he couldn't stand her and didn't like being around her. It sounded like an unbridled case of youthful rebellion on his part, rather than a satanic attack.

So I told him that. I said, "It sounds to me like you're just behaving in a fleshly way. I think you need to look into your own heart for the culprit, rather than blaming the devil and outside influences."

But he insisted that I just didn't understand the issue. It must be Satanic, he said, because the nature of his conflict with his mother was so powerful. And besides, he said, living with her was like living with the devil. And when I raised my eyebrow at that, he quickly added that he couldn't help himself; the temptation to speak hatefully to her and about her was so overpowering, it was as if evil forces had taken over his mind.

I told him first of all, that regardless of Satan's involvement in his home, the root sin causing his problems was fleshly, carnal pride. I also reminded him that when he sinned with his tongue, he was sinning deliberately of his own accord, so he couldn't escape his own responsibility by blaming Satan for the turmoil in his household.

But I told him I agreed that his trouble was probably also demonic. After all, James 3:6 says, "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." I also reminded him that according to 1 Samuel 15:23, "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." By indulging in that kind of rebellion, he was committing a sin as evil and as satanic as witchcraft. He was opening his own heart and life to Satan's influence, and he was giving Satan every opportunity to take advantage of him.



And then I told him, "I'm going to let you in on a secret. I'm going to give you a foolproof technique for spiritual warfare that is the most powerful and most potent defense against Satan you could ever employ. If you do what I say, and follow these instructions every time you are tempted to speak an unkind word to your mother, I guarantee this will solve your problem.

So he took out his pen and a piece of paper and prepared to take notes. And when he was looking at me expectantly, ready for the answer, I quoted James 4:7: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." And Ephesians 4:26-27: "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil."

"If Satan doesn't flee," I said—"if he is successful in luring you into sin—it is always because your own wicked heart agrees with him and cooperates with him, and so you do whatever sinful thing he has tempted you to do. When that happens, instead of blaming it on influences beyond your control, you need to repent, and admit your own fleshly complicity with the devil, and resist him rather than cooperating with him."

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour . . . resist [him, and remain] stedfast in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8-9).

I could tell he wasn't pleased with my reply. He desperately wanted me to agree that his problems were caused entirely by the devil, and that therefore the whole problem was completely outside his own heart and beyond his own control. If I had offered to come to his house and conduct some kind of ceremonial exorcism, I'm sure he would have taken me up on it immediately. But he was not prepared to admit that he was in any way culpable for the disharmony in his own home.

We'd all like to believe that our struggle with sin involves only external enemies. We're willing to say that Satan is to blame for our sin. We'd be just as happy to blame the world—or any convenient scapegoat in the world—as long as it's an external cause. As long as we don't have to take the blame on ourselves.

But the ultimate culprit is always our own flesh. We cannot escape blame for our sin by saying, "The devil made me do it," or "the world is to blame."

Even our struggle with the world is a struggle that is fomented by inordinate desires that emanate from within ourselves. "All that is in the world [is] the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." Have you ever thought about that? That's how Scripture defines "the world," but those are actually sinful tendencies that come from within us. We ourselves are ultimately to blame when inordinate worldly affections crowd out what should be a pure love for God and the things of God. Neither the world nor the devil could ever take advantage of us if our own flesh did not cooperate.

Phil's signature

26 comments:

Chauvin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Even So... said...

This post is true...the devil only enflames what is already there, and where there is no fuel, the fire dies out...

The Doulos said...

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:14-16)

A great reminder of this inconvenient truth. Satan and the world would have nothing to appeal to if there were no sin nature in us. But it's our own sinful, fleshly desires that we give head to and then willfully choose to commit sin. Satan may give the opportunity, but we choose to take it.

jsb said...

James 1:14-16 is also a good reminder that lust ("sinful desire") is not itself a sin. Whew. Only when lust "conceives" -- is yielded to, given the consent of the will -- that sin results.

The Doulos said...

jsb:

Excellent point. I have encountered believers who misunderstand this and carry huge burdens of guilt, thinking that their temptations are sin. To be tempted is not sin, to give in to the temptation and follow through is.

J. K. Jones said...

The whole story is in Matthew 15:10-20, but Jesus said:

“…For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander…” (verse 19, ESV)

Out church is doing a small group discussion for our teenage boys on sexual purity. The video they showed contained part of the infamous interview of Ted Bundy by Jim Dobson. The reaction of one of the boys was classic. He said, “It sounds to me like Bundy is just making excuses for his behavior.” I told him I thought he was right and read the passage above.

I know from personal experience that I am prone to make excuses for my sin. I pray often that God would bring me to deeper repentance.

Keith said...

Great post, very helpful for people that won't take responsibility for thier carnality. Won't sell any books without spicing it up a little. How about: How to beat the Devil by beating yourself. Not so glamourous, but it worked for Paul, lest he be disqualified for his rewards be mastered his appetites.

Keith said...

...he mastered his appetites.

Bryon Mondok said...

good word

konolia said...

I agree to a point but I was taught in my theology class that the deeper you get into sin the more powerful the hold sin gets on you. A good reason to avoid sin to begin with!

I'd say the young man in the story probably needed someone to pray with him and to be there for him for accountability purposes. When we attempt to fight sin as a lone ranger we can get into difficulties which is why the Bible instructs us to confess to one another.

janelle said...

Very good post. Thanks for explaining the root of the problem...how deceitful our hearts are!

ReformedMommy said...

So to sum up what was said - "Just stop it." Nothing about how God only commands what He also enables through His Spirit? Nothing about He enables us through prayer and meditation on His Word? Nothing about what His Word says specifically about how we are to speak and act towards our parents? No doubt only a desire for brevity caused you to leave those parts out; otherwise, I'm concerned this dear brother may have gone away resigned to further frustration and despair.

SolaMeanie said...

bvpljChauvin,

I don't think true Christians can be demon possessed. Oppressed or tempted, perhaps, but possession implies ownership as well as having a demon living in you. Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Of course, that doesn't mean Christians can't fall into sin, but a Christian falling into sin doesn't mean they are possessed by a demon.

Flip Wilson's "The Devil made me do it" aside, it is part and parcel of the sinful human nature to blame someone else. It happened right from the beginning with Adam, Eve and the serpent. God confronted them, and what was their response? Adam said, "this woman YOU gave me (blaming God ultimately) made me do it." Eve said, "the serpent made me do it." As an aside, Eve wasn't possessed by Satan and neither was Adam.

SolaMeanie said...

Sorry about the "bvplj." Stupid Blogger word verification.

The Thunderer said...

Great post! As a Pentecostal, I come across folk all the time looking for "deliverance," i.e. the magic wand approach to overcoming temptation. Some words of power from a shaman and they'll be free! After all, it wasn't really them, but an unclean spirit forcing its way upon them. In Christ, we always have within our grasp that which we need to defeat the devil. One may need the correction of a brother, but one never needs a brother to fight his battles with evil for him.

The Doulos said...

reformedmommy said: "I'm concerned this dear brother may have gone away resigned to further frustration and despair."

Actually, a little frustration and despair over our rebellious and sinful nature can be a good thing, as it often leads us to repentance, ownership of the wrong, and reliance on the Word and the Spirt. Even Paul expressed this:

"Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!...(Romans 7:24-25)"

JoeMartino said...

Doulos, you quoted Romans 7 but left out some didn't you?

15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law;

I wonder if "inner being" could be interpreted heart?
Either way, Let us look at all of verse 25
25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Peace!

donsands said...

Good teaching.

It's so important for us to walk by faith, and not by works. If we try to conquer our sinful struggles by our own strength, then we shall either become discouraged, and perhaps give up. Or even worse, we may conquer this sin, and become puffed-up.

By faith in Christ, and praying in the power of His Spirit, we can fight against the sinful habits. Or it may be pride, as it was for this man.
Everything we do is by faith, under His grace. And it is amazing how gracious the Lord is to bless us and help us overcome our pride, laziness, and self-centeredness. Though this will be our war until we either go home to be with Him, or He returns.

"So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Peace!"

Luther says born again Christians are at the same time, both sinners and righteous. I agree.

The Doulos said...

joemartino,

Yes, I did leave some of Romans 7 out, just trying to point out the conclusion that Paul came to. Thanks for including the rest that leads up to his point. A great passage pointing out the dual nature of the redeemed believer.

Actually, I've been reading Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods, and have learned how to pick out just the parts of verses that fit my point...

=:o

Mike Messerli said...

Great post, Phil. Very true! Any follow up on the "Flip Wilson" guy in India? Did he take your advice?

LeeC said...

Reformedmommy.

I'd say Phil was merely doing things in order. You cannot begin to worry about God enabling you to resist, until you confess what you are doing is sin. This man had no desire to repent as things stood because he thought "the Devil was making me do it" instead of confessing that he had a sin issue he needed to repent of.
No progress can be made until you come to the point of confession and repentance.

lordodamanor said...

The Doulos said... "But it's our own sinful, fleshly desires that we give head to and then willfully choose to commit sin. Satan may give the opportunity, but we choose to take it."

It is interesting though that Paul says in Romans and in Galations that it is not always that we choose to do it!

jsb said...
James 1:14-16 is also a good reminder that lust ("sinful desire") is not itself a sin. Whew. Only when lust "conceives" -- is yielded to, given the consent of the will -- that sin results.

It is interesting though that Jesus said that the very thought is sin itself. You mistake the external manifestation that James is talking about as being qualitatively different from the inward reality!

Even So... said...
"This post is true...the devil only enflames what is already there, and where there is no fuel, the fire dies out..."

And since it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the old man is put to death not by the works of the flesh, for sin cannot cast out sin, the only hope is Christ. Beside, when in this life will there not be plentiful fuel within you alone not to be able to stoke fires of hell?

The Doulos said... "Excellent point. I have encountered believers who misunderstand this and carry huge burdens of guilt, thinking that their temptations are sin. To be tempted is not sin, to give in to the temptation and follow through is."

Too bad you did this when you could have led them in the truth of Scripture that the thoughts of their sinful nature is indeed sin, as Paul would concur, "that though my conscience is clear, I am not without guilt." You could have confirmed the truth and lead the brother instead into the reality that he is in his sinful nature tolally depraved and needs to repent of evil thought just as much as any other action.

J. K. Jones said...
The whole story is in Matthew 15:10-20, but Jesus said:

“…For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander…” (verse 19, ESV)

This is a great quote, J.K.. Note that thoughts are considered actions just as damnable as the others!

"I know from personal experience that I am prone to make excuses for my sin. I pray often that God would bring me to deeper repentance."

What does this mean? The closer you come to the light the darker and deeper your sin will become. When God grants repentance, he does away with the sin. Remember when you were born again. Repentence is a free gift and like baptism it is an establishment of a clean conscience before God. Simply because you repeatedly fall into the same sin over and over is not an indication that you have not received repentence. And as James said, every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights. So, when you pray, asking for forgiveness, do not hope for "deeper repentence," but receive the good and perfect from the Father and remember Jesus' admonition to Peter: "Pray that you do not fall into temptation...Take heart I have prayed for you and when you have been restored, turn and strengthen your brothers."


Keith said... "Great post, very helpful for people that won't take responsibility for thier carnality... but it worked for Paul, lest he be disqualified for his rewards be mastered his appetites."

Are you sure Paul was not talking about keeping his flesh from deceiving him into believing that he got the victory and not Christ? Remember Galatians? The pride of the flesh gets the victory when we believe that we can choose anything. "The flesh wars against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh so that you do not do as you will (thelo in the Greek). Paul also said that bodily exercise profits little. In the short, all the chest beating and trying to keep the flesh is check is practically fruitless. Unless it is Godly exercise, the flesh put to death by the Spirit, forget it the dead just comes to life again!

ReformedMommy,

I thought that that was implied in the origional post. I heartily agree that a stiff rebuke is often the best medicine!

The Thunderer,

You mean like the tools Peter had, or the tool that Jude tells us is our only one, "The Lord rebuke you." You know, resist the devil and he will flee...like David did, dying as it was still living in adultery and a man after God's own heart?

You know something, if God does is not the deliver, "
"Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!...(Romans 7:24-25)"
you are stuck and need to learn to be content...not with the sin...but with the circumstance. It is best to press on, not excusing sin and laying it aside knowing that even if you cannot abstain because of your incontinance, that the Father will discipline you, scourging you, and if it was not for sin in your life you would be a bastard (KJV)child being unfit to be disciplined! Thank God he set us free to be sons and to be held responsible for sin. He could have left us irresponsible like the world believes that it is!

solameanie said "Adam said, "this woman YOU gave me (blaming God ultimately) made me do it."

This is myth. There was no blaming going on, that is just a traditional teaching that is not supported by the text. How about just reading it as a confession, because that is what it is instead of turning it into a topical exercise, please. There is no rebuke from God about any "pointing of the finger." So, do not make the text say what is not there.

"No progress can be made until you come to the point of confession and repentance," leec said.

The word of God is a hammer. Except that he crushes the heart man will not repent. Interesting thing about the Hebrew word for humility. It can mean to crush. And being crushed into power and with a little spittle of the Lord, the nature of sin becomes very clear. The beatitudes include this disqualifier, "Be perfect as you Father in Heaven is perfect." The sword of the Lord had to pierce even Mary's heart to kill pride. And what a powerful blessing she had receieved, and what a power it must have exerted over flesh to even try to stop her son from going to Calvary when she and her sons tried to take Him and have him put away as a "madman." We must take care then for the great gift that God has given us that we do not let it "puff us up beyond measure," eh Paul. Praise God then for that messenger of Satan sent to buffet the flesh, so that we can say with Paul, "not I, but Christ who lives in me!"

donsands said...

"The sword of the Lord had to pierce even Mary's heart to kill pride. And what a powerful blessing she had receieved, and what a power it must have exerted over flesh to even try to stop her son from going to Calvary when she and her sons tried to take Him and have him put away as a "madman." -lordo

What?

jsb said...

"It is interesting though that Jesus said that the very thought is sin itself. You mistake the external manifestation that James is talking about as being qualitatively different from the inward reality!"

A common misunderstanding of Matt. 5:27-30. The Greek has intentionality and specificity here (a willful intention and a specific object). This verse, carelessly handled, has cast more fog than light.

The Thunderer said...

Lordo:
from start to finish...
What?????????

angeleyes said...

What???

Well you know what they say: Mist in th pulpit leading to fog in the pews...

I wish Phil had brought out the sense of the word "temptation" (testing, as of the Israelites, in vs. 1-12. Then you would have got the idea of adversity... nothing to do with Satan tempting you with sin.):

G3986
πειρασμός
peirasmos
pi-ras-mos'
From G3985; a putting to proof (by experiment [of good], experience [of evil], solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication adversity: - temptation, X try.

I loved the previous post about the "mud" Jesus used for the blind man's eye though.