October 17, 2017

Battling the Enemy

Mike Jones

Since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, fighting battles has been a part of human existence. Every person born into this world has battles of some sort or another. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a battle as “any fight or struggle; a conflict.” Although most people probably think of some external military or domestic conflict when they hear the word “battle,” those conflicts are the result of greater battles raging in the souls and minds of men and women. James 4:1 asks, “From whence come wars and fightings among you?” and then answers, “Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”

Training for Battle

There are three enemies that Christians fight on varying battlefields. The flesh, the world, and the Devil are forces that try the will of every believer in Christ. How can a Christian battle and conquer such formidable opponents? It begins with training.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is quoted in the U.S. Army training manual as saying, “The best form of ‘welfare’ for troops is first-class training, for this saves unnecessary casualties.” The Jewish historian Josephus, describing the Roman army in his account of the Jewish Rebellion (a.d. 66–73), wrote that every “soldier is every day exercised, and that with great diligence, as if it were in time of war, which is the reason why they bear the fatigue of battles so easily; for neither can any disorder remove them from their usual regularity, nor can fear affright them out of it, nor can labor tire them; which firmness of conduct makes them always to overcome those that have not the same firmness.” The Christian’s training manual is the Word of God. In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul exhorts, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Knowing the Enemy

One of the first lessons taught for anyone engaging in a battle, whether it’s a chess match or hand-tohand combat, is to know your enemy. The well-known Chinese General Sun Tzu is quoted in his book, The Art of War, as saying, “Know your enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” Let’s take a look at those enemies.

The Flesh. The word “flesh” translates the Greek word sarx. The apostle Paul uses this word to describe a great adversary in the warfare of the soul. It could be said that living in the flesh is the opposite to living as a Christian: “For the flesh lusteth [i.e., has desires opposed to] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal. 5:17).

The essence of the flesh is this. No army can invade a country from the sea unless it obtain a bridgehead. Temptation would be powerless to affect men, unless there was some thing already in man to respond to temptation. Sin could gain no foothold in a man’s mind and heart and soul and life unless there was an enemy within the gates who was willing to open the door to sin. The flesh is exactly the bridgehead through which sin invades the human personality. The flesh is like the enemy within the gates who opens the way to the enemy who is pressing in through the gates (William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit, 21–22).

The World. The word “world” represents the Greek word kosmos. Albert Barnes wrote,

The term “world” seems to be used in the scriptures in three senses: (1) As denoting the physical universe; the world as it appears to the eye; the world considered as the work of God, as a material creation. (2) The world as applied to the people that reside in it — “the world of mankind.” (3) As the dwellers on the earth are by nature without religion, and act under a set of maxims, aims, and principles that have reference only to this life, the term comes to be used with reference to that community; that is, to the objects which they especially seek, and the principles by which they are actuated (Barnes Notes on 1 John 2:15).

John identifies the “world” with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15, 16) and states that if a man embraces all that is the world and loves it, then the love of God the Father is absent from that man. In this sense, the world represents all that is contrary and in opposition to the things of God. The problem is that the world has a strong appeal to the flesh. John Bunyan depicts this appeal in The Pilgrim’s Progress through a place called Vanity Fair.

Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the Pilgrims made, that their way to the City lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a Fair; a Fair, wherein should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long (The Pilgrim’s Progress, Barbour and Company, Inc., 98).

This town of Vanity is the world, which we must travel through on our way to our eternal home. Paul appeals to us as Christian soldiers, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4).

The Devil. The Devil and his minions are a powerful and nefarious lot. Paul describes them for us in Ephesians 6: 12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Peter identifies their leader, Satan, as “your adversary” (1 Pet. 5:8). In his commentary, John Gill elaborates Biblically:

He who is a defamer and calumniator; who accuses God to men, and men to God, and is therefore styled the accuser of the brethren; he is the saints’ avowed and implacable enemy. Satan is an enemy to mankind in general, but more especially to the seed of the woman, to Christ personal, to all the elect of God: the word [adversary] is a forensic term, and signifies a court adversary, or one that litigates a point in law, or opposes another in an action or suit at law.

Peter also describes this enemy as “a roaring lion, [walking] about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). That is a frightening analogy. This picture is further enhanced in the narrative of Christian’s battle with Apollyon in Pilgrim’s Progress. Imagine this scene:

Then did Christian draw [his sword], for he saw it was time to bestir him; and Apollyon as fast made at him, throwing darts as thick as hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot. This made Christian give a little back: Apollyon, therefore, followed his work amain, and Christian again took courage, and resisted as manfully as he could (Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, 62).

Strategy for Victory

The flesh, the world, and the Devil are enemies that we will battle until we are in the presence of the Lord. How should we behave in battle? We must first remember the words of Jahaziel: “Hearken ye, … Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not your’s, but God’s” (2 Chron. 20:15). The strength and endurance and wisdom necessary for victory in battle will be supplied by the Lord.

But we have our part in the fight as well. Victory comes by “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” Our instructions for battling each of these foes are specific. We are “briefed” in Galatians 5:16: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” First John 2:15 commands, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” And in James 4:7 our orders are to “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.” This is illustrated, again, in Christian’s battle with Apollyon.

While Apollyon was fetching his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly reached out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, “rejoice not against me, O my enemy! When I shall fall I shall arise”; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received his mortal wound. … And with that Apolloyon spread forth his dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian saw him no more (Pilgrim’s Progress, 63).

The battle is the Lord’s, and we must, in His strength, “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12) and “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3).


Mike Jones pastors Cornerstone Baptist Church in Oakdale, Connecticut.


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