1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Donít they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but donít get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, donít you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Thatís good advice. In fact, itís so good that God gave it to us twice. The parallel passage is in I Peter 5:8-9:
8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Iím here to tell you, or to remind you, how to resist the devil so that he will flee from you. There is nothing controversial in this message; this is simple exposition of Scripture. This will be a reminder for you who have known the Lord for a while, and it may be new to those of you who are new believers, but there is nothing new in this message. Paul said in Philippians 3:1,"It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you." So weíre going to do a little safeguarding today. Weíre going to start at the end of this passage of Scripture and work our way backwards, and when weíre done, you will know how to resist the devil. And the first important point I am going to make is this: you are not strong enough to resist the devil.
Did any of you ever play with toy soldiers when you were young? Or, if toy soldiers werenít your thing, maybe plastic farm animals or zoo animals? I staged mock battles all the time with my green army men. I had machine-gunners, flame-throwers, mortar teams, snipers, grenade throwers, every kind of soldier I needed to win my battle. And in every bag of soldiers, it seemed like there were one or two that just would not stand up straight. Maybe their base was warped, maybe their center of gravity was wrong, but no matter how you fiddled with them, it was just a matter of time before they fell over. Anybody else have that problem?
The fact is, we all have that problem. Because when the devil comes along like a roaring lion, we stand up to him like that toy soldier on the crooked base, and we say, "Iím a brave soldier of the cross, and I resist you, Satan!" And he laughs, and goes like this, poof! And down we go. Diving headfirst into that same old sin again. And we thought we were doing so well, we thought we had that one beat. Anybody else have that problem?
We are not strong enough to resist the devil in our own strength, because if we rely on our own strength, weíre standing on a crooked base, and that crooked base is our flesh. Satan is a spirit, and his demons are spirits, and they have far more strength than we do. Resisting the devil is not within our power. But as Christians, we have access to all the power there ever was, and thatís the power we should be relying on. And how do we do that? What does the entire verse say?
7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Itís not an accident that those two sentences come one right after the other. You canít ignore the first half of the verse if you want to live the second part. And this is the second critical point I want to make. You cannot resist the devil if you are not submitting yourself to God.
The best example of how to resist the devil is when the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, and Iím going to keep coming back to this. You all know the story Ė- Jesus was hungry, Satan tempted Him to turn stones to bread, Jesus refused because that wasnít Godís will. Satan told him to prove He was the son of God by jumping off the Temple, and quoted Scripture out of context to try and twist His arm; Jesus refused because we arenít supposed to put God to the test. Satan offered Jesus the world in exchange for worship; Jesus refused because only God is to be worshipped. Itís all in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, if you need to refresh your memory.
Now think about those temptations. After Jesus had fasted for forty days, donít you think He wanted something to eat? Of course He did -Ė the Bible says He was hungry. So why didnít He turn a rock into bread? Because God didnít tell Him to do it, and He wanted Godís will more than He wanted His own.
When Satan told him to jump off the Temple to prove He was the son of God, donít you think it might have felt good for Jesus to shut Satan up by proving His deity? It might have. But Satan already knew whether Jesus was the son of God or not. Jesus had nothing to prove to Satan. And Jesus wanted Godís will more than He wanted His own will.
Did Jesus really want to go to the cross? In the garden of Gethsemane, He cried out to His Father, in so many words, "Father, if this is the only way, Iíll do it, but is there some other way?" He could have been tempted by Satanís shortcut to becoming king over the earth. But thatís not why Jesus came to earth. He came to pay for our sins and save our souls, and the devilís bargain couldnít include that. Again, Jesus wanted Godís will more than He wanted His own will.
That is what it means to submit yourself to God. It means that you will do His will, no matter what He asks of you, no matter what it costs you, no matter how much it hurts, no matter what, period. And it doesnít get any more unnatural than that. It is not human nature to gladly give up your own well-being. But thatís what it takes to obey this Bible verse. God has promised us a great reward in Heaven if we obey, and Heís also promised a blessing in this world -Ė if we submit ourselves to Him, then we can resist the devil and he will flee from us.
How does that work? Letís look at Jude, verse 9:
9But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"
This is the archangel Michael, the captain of the army of the angels of God, possibly the mightiest created being in Heaven. This is a being that could arm-wrestle Satan and win. But he didnít even try to use his own strength. He relied entirely on the power of God. Do you know what thatís called? Thatís called humility. Michael had nothing to prove, to Satan or anyone else, because Michaelís power wasnít even an issue in his mind. He wanted God to get all the glory. And that made him the exact opposite of Satan, whose first and greatest sin wasÖ what? Pride. So we back up a verse in the passage of James that weíre looking at, to verse 6, and what do we see?God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God opposes Satan, but gives grace to Michael. God opposes us when we do things in our own strength, but gives us grace when we work in His power.
Think about it: when you do things in your own strength, what are you saying to God? Youíre saying your own strength is enough to do what He told you to do. Youíre saying you donít need Him. Trying to do it yourself is an expression of pride. The Bible doesnít say God will stand aside and let you fail if you do that. The Bible says God will actively oppose you if you try it. God feels so strongly about this that He says it in the Bible, not once, not twice, but three times -Ė in this passage in James, in I Peter 5:5, and the original passage in Proverbs 3:34. Pride and humility are extremely important issues to God. Especially if you want to resist the devil. Thereís no way you can resist the devil if youíre full of pride. Thatís not resisting him Ė thatís imitating him. How much godliness will you find if youíre imitating Godís enemy instead of God?
Letís back up some more, to verses 4 and 5:
4You adulterous people, donít you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?
Strong words. Letís think about this a little.
Do you remember Joshua 5:13? It was right after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, and they were trying to figure out how to conquer the city of Jericho.
13Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"
14"Neither," he replied, "but as the commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"
Joshua asked, "Are you for us or against us?" God said, "No, Joshua, youíre not calling the shots. Iím the team captain. Are you for or against Me?"
We have the same choice to make, and that brings me to my next important point. You cannot resist the devil if youíre trying to fit God into your life, instead of fitting your life into God.
God says, in James 4:4, that we can be friends with the world, or friends with God, but not both. In the past, some have taken this to mean we should renounce all worldly goods and wear rags and live in a hole in the ground. Thatís not what God is saying here. When James says "the world," he is talking about the world system. The worldís way of doing things. The worldís way of thinking. These are the opposite of Godís ways.
God says, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for Godís wrath." But the world says, "Donít get mad, get even."
God says, "Anyone who looks on a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." But if youíre watching a pro football game, the world serves up those cheerleaders, and what are they expecting you to do? Admire their nail polish?
God says, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery." But the world makes commercials about the good times youíll have if you drink the right kind of beer.
And, just to drive my point home, how many of you have read Pilgrimís Progress? This is just my opinion, but I believe thatís the second-greatest book ever written. And one of the wickedest places in that book, the place that is most opposed to God, is the town of Vanity, and the ongoing fair there, called Vanity Fair. One of the heroes of the book was killed for his faith in that place. And what has the world done? They made a magazine about everything thatís fashionable and trendy and "in" Ė- you can see it at the checkout counter at any supermarket Ė and they have proudly named that magazine Vanity Fair.
That is what James meant when he wrote about "the world." And the world wants to be your friend. All you have to do is compromise a little -Ė nothing big, you donít have to blaspheme or commit genocide or anything, just soften your standards a little. Donít be so closed-minded. Go along to get along.
Thatís what the world says. What does God say?"Be ye holy, for I am holy." You tell me: is there any possible way to live both Godís way and the worldís way? You have to choose. You can be a friend of the world, or be a friend of God. Satan offered Jesus that choice when he offered our Lord the whole world in exchange for bowing down and worshiping, just once -Ė no big deal! To God, it is a very big deal. Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
But why would anyone ever make such a choice? We see this in verses 1-3, and I prefer the King James version here:
1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
2Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
This verse explains why we Christians have such a hard time in this life. Itís a four-letter word that appears three times in these verses. Itís the word "lust." We usually think of lust as being about immorality, but you can lust after anything -Ė alcohol, money, power, fame. Some people lust after pity; they long for people to feel sorry for them. This word "lust" is the root of my next important point: Satan is not your worst enemy. You are.
Iím going to give you a definition of "lust" that probably isnít in any dictionary, but itíll help you get a handle on what Iím trying to say. Lust is any desire thatís contrary to the will of God. Do I need to repeat that? It can be a desire thatís normally natural and good, like the need for food that gets taken too far into gluttony. Or it can be an unnatural desire, like a desire for drugs that no one is born with, but some people acquire it.
Now, let me explain how lust works. Letís say Iíve got a magnet in my hand, and I want it to stick to the wall. If I just slap it up against wallboard, it wonít stick, will it? Thereís nothing in wallboard that a magnet can stick to. But if I put it right above a steel nail in that wall, the magnet will stick to the wall there, because thereís something in the wall at that point that draws it.
Thatís how lust works. Satan tries to get us to sin by lobbing temptations at us. Being tempted is not a sin; we know that because the Bible says Jesus Himself was tempted, but never sinned. But when the enemy dangles a temptation in front of us, heís hoping to find a nail in our wallboard, something in us that will draw that temptation to us. And what happens then? James 1:14 tells us:
14But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Itís our lusts that give temptation its teeth. If we had no lusts, temptation would do nothing to us.
We have three enemies: Satan, the world, and the flesh. Satan is like a fisherman. The world is his tackle box, a bottomless bucket of bait and lures. But no matter how skillful the fisherman is, no matter how yummy that bait looks, the fisherman wonít catch a thing if the fish isnít hungry. And even though Satan is the master tempter, and even though the world is full of enticing temptations, they wonít have any effect on us unless weíre hungry for them.
Iíll give you a personal example. Letís say Iím watching a TV show, and a beer commercial comes on. Now, there are people who have made a mess of their lives with alcohol, and they know they canít go near it if they want to please God, and if they watch this commercial telling them how much fun theyíd have if theyíd only drink this beer, they would have a problem. They have a lust for alcohol, and the temptation in that commercial would draw them. Me, I donít have that problem, because Iíve never been able to acquire a taste for alcohol -Ė the stuff makes me gag. I have no desire for alcohol, none whatsoever. So there wouldnít be anything in me for that commercial to entice me; that commercial would not be a temptation to me... as long as the women in the commercial are decently dressed. If they arenít, Iím facing a whole different kind of temptation, because I have a different set of lusts warring in my members. That doesnít make me any better or worse than the guy whoís fighting a lust for alcohol. But thatís how temptation works.
For proof of this, consider Jesus. He was tempted three times in the wilderness. And these were not minor-league temptations, because they came from the first-rate tempter who had everything to gain by successfully tempting Jesus, and everything to lose by failing. But Jesus did not yield to those temptations. Why not? Because He had no desires in him that were contrary to the will of God. Doing the will of God wasnít just the most important thing to Jesus, it was the only thing. He had no lusts, no nails in His wallboard, so temptation had no place to stick to him.
But Satan tried to tempt Him anyway, and you can be sure heíll try to tempt us as well. He knows we have a sin nature, and not only that, but he knows what our weak spots are. None of us were born saved. Weíve all lived as members of Satanís kingdom. Many of us served Satan longer than weíve served God. So the devil knows all about our lusts. He knows where our nails are, because he hammered them in himself. And while Satan wonít bother with most of us personally, his demons know everything he knows about us. So itís no easy struggle weíre up against.
Our old man, our flesh, is capable of nothing good. The verses we just read in James 5 show how hopeless we naturally are. We want something, and we fight each other for it, when all we have to do is ask for it. And if we do ask, we still donít get what we want, because we ask wrong. What a bunch of losers we are, eh? Naturally, we canít do anything right. Thatís why we are our own worst enemy. Satan is strong, but he canít make us sin unless we let him. Unfortunately, letting him comes naturally to us.
So what do we do?
Turn to Colossians 3:5, if you would, please.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust [thereís that word again], evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
Thereís the answer, at the end of verse 9 and the start of verse 10. Take off the old self, and put on the new self. This became a reality in your life the day you cried out to Jesus to save you from your sins, but you have to keep putting it into practice.
Itís as if your old self, your sin nature with all its lusts, was an old, comfortable, worn-out, dirty T-shirt that came alive somehow. You keep taking it off and throwing in the trash, but it keeps crawling out again, and putting itself on you when you arenít looking. It has no power over you; it canít force itself to stay on you; you can take it off at will and cast it aside again. But itís so comfortable and familiar, and itís such a struggle to keep fighting it, that sometimes it seems easier to leave it on for a while. And, like most shirts, that shirt has a tag in the collar. Do you know what that tag says? "Made in Hell -Ė do not wash in the Blood." And do you know what it says on the back of the shirt, where you canít see it? It doesnít say, "Kick me," it says, "Tempt me!"
Your old self is just like that old shirt. Itís familiar, itís comfortable, itís natural, you grew up that way. But the Bible says that old self has to come off and stay off, and youíve got to keep taking it off, every single time it pops into your life. But you canít do it yourself; youíll be right back to that toy soldier with the crooked base. So how do you do it? Hereís the nitty-gritty.
We, as Christians, have to cultivate the habit of watching out for that old self, because heíll be back, sooner, not later. And when we see ourselves starting to think and talk and act like we used to think, talk, and act before we knew Jesus, itís prayer time. Thereís no set of magic words that we ought to use; thereís no special prayer we have to pray. Just like a sinnerís prayer, itís not the words that matter, but the heart attitude behind those words. Just thank Jesus for what Heís done for you, confess that youíre in a temptation situation that you donít even want to try to handle, and ask God for the Holy Spirit strength to do what His word says is right, and not to do what comes naturally.
And if you find yourself in a flesh situation, and you pray like that, do you know what you just did?
You just resisted the devil, and he will flee from you. You just cut away the lust inside you that could have made his temptation dangerous, and now heís got nothing to use against you. Victory over sin is a combination of habitually watching out for the old man, and habitually praying for Godís strength every time the old man appears. Putting off the old self, and putting on the new self, is a discipline that has to become a habit. And itís the discipline that will give you victory in your spiritual life.
I have one more point I need to make, because every Christian who ever lived has found himself in a position like this: you sense your old man trying to make an appearance, you cry out to God, God answers you, and you overcome the temptation that was headed your way. And you rejoice, and thank God for the victory, and you think, "Hey, I could get used to this Ďvictoryí stuff!" And a little while later, that same temptation pops up again, and itís just as hard a struggle as it was before. And it happens again, and itís still a struggle. Didnít you just win that battle? Wasnít it supposed to get easier? What happened?
You have to remember that Satan and his demons are spirits; theyíve been alive a lot longer than we have, and they know about patience and persistence. And my final major point is, < B>if you resist the devil, he will flee from you, but heíll be back.
When the devil was tempting Jesus, Luke 4:13 says,"When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time." It doesnít say he left Jesus for keeps, running off beaten with his tail between his legs, never to return. It says he left until an opportune time, which means he tried again. Jesus faced every temptation common to men in His 33 years. Satan didnít just take three pokes at Him and then quit. He kept trying. And he will do the same to us. And he doesnít like being beaten. So, once God has given you a victory or two over your old self, your new self had better tighten up the armor of God, because this means war.
Jesus said weíd be more than conquerors; weíd be overcomers. How is an overcomer better than a conqueror? Let me explain that, nice and clear. At the most basic level, you have a soldier. A soldier is someone who fights in a battle.
One step better than a soldier is a victor. Thatís a soldier who has fought his battle and won.
Then we have a conqueror. A conqueror is a soldier who has fought all his battles, and won them all. The enemy is defeated, and there are no more battles to fight.
But above the conqueror is the overcomer. Thatís a soldier who has fought his battle and won, even though he knows another battle is right around the corner. And when heís fought that battle and won, thereís another battle waiting. And another, and another, and so on, until the day he passes into the presence of Christ. Thatís why the Bible uses words like "he who endures to the end."
Satan is not going to give up until Jesus finally casts him into the lake of fire. Our warfare in this world does not have an end in sight... in this world. Thatís the bad news.
The good news is that we arenít condemned to fight the same battle over and over. God promised us victory. If thereís a particular sin you keep falling into, if thereís a particular temptation that keeps getting to you, Jesus wants to help you beat that thing. And it can be done, and it has been done. All of us whoíve known the Lord for any length of time can testify to some sin that, by the grace of God, theyíve overcome. True?
Does that mean their battle is won? No, because as soon as you win in one area, God will start bringing you toward perfection in some other area. And I guarantee you that the devil will start attacking that area with all his might, trying to undo what God is doing. But with perseverance and faith, you can gain a victory in that area as well. And then God will start on another area of your life. We are such a mess when we get saved, that God will never run out of ways to improve us. Which means Satan will never run out of temptations to dangle in front of us. So if it seems like the enemy is giving you a hard time, take that as a sign that God is making progress with you, youíre moving ahead, and now Satan is playing catch-up.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Itís an unending struggle. It takes discipline and perseverance. Itís not an easy thing. But the Spirit of God within us gives us all the power we need to win every battle weíll ever face. The struggle can be disappointing. But it can be done. And if you want to obey Godís command,"Be ye holy, for I am holy," itís the only way. Youíre on the winning side. The only way you can lose is if you give up. Keep fighting, keep resisting, and you will win.