Spiritual Warfare: Fight the Flesh 2

One of my favorite hobbies is cycling. My wife and I purchased two hybrid bikes three years ago and quickly became gearheads. During the first few months, it was exciting to start learning how to track cadence, heart rate, and average speed. We started with four miles, but before we knew it, our strength increased and our technique improved, and we were going 20 miles regularly. I traded in my hybrid and bought a road bike, started hitting the asphalt with some buddies, and started going 30 or more miles every weekend. It was a joy to ride fourteen or fifteen miles an hour for two or more hours.

But then last summer we bought a house, remodeled it, and my wife gave birth to our beautiful second daughter. I suddenly didn’t have much time to bike and the first time I went back out was this past May. I had been off the bike for a year! A quick ten miles left me sore, exhausted, and a little disappointed in myself. Eighteen months of work had been lost to a year of little exercise. My strength was gone. Even worse, I struggled clipping into the pedals, felt unsure on curves, and could not keep my feet in a steady cadence/rhythm no matter how hard I tried. Because of my laziness and lack of discipline, I was out of shape and out of habit.

Apathy, distraction, busyness, and laziness can also cause decline in our spiritual lives. This month, Trey and I have been discussing spiritual warfare. We have discussed fighting the devil, the world, and the active sin that is present in your life. As many of you have visited us at camp and now have returned home, we want you to continue fighting for the faith—indeed, your faith—with vigor.

In this post, I want to consider a much less obvious sin that you need to fight: passive sin. What do I mean by passive sin? Passive sin is classically known as sins of omission. In other words, you are sinning by omitting what you ought to do. Here are three key areas you need to actively pursue daily and weekly if you are to continue growing in Christ, but before we jump in, we will all do well to be reminded that there is no “neutral” in the Christian life. We are either actively pursuing Christ as a worshipper and servant, or we are actively walking away from Christ and pursuing the world, our desires, and potentially, overt sin.

Now without further ado, here are three things you must do to fight the flesh and ensure you do not suffer spiritual atrophy and fall into passive sin.

Intake and Respond to God’s Word
The Word of God is our fuel. The Word of God keeps sinful desires at bay and makes our hearts yearn for the Lord. To return to the biking analogy, I’ve made the mistake several times of not eating well before I ride. If I eat red meat, fried foods, or heavy carbohydrates, I will feel worse on my ride and my stats will go down. In fact, a New York strip the day before guarantees a shorter trip the day after—partly because of the heartburn! If I eat vegetables, lean protein, and fruit the day before and then again immediately before my ride, I feel great and find I have much more energy. Our soul works the same way. If you are going to be strong, filled with the Spirit, and eager to serve the Lord, you must feed your heart with a steady and lean diet of God’s Word. Pursuing sin is like ingesting poison. I’m not talking about drinking poison. I’m taking about the “comfort foods.” Our worst enemies to the daily intake of God’s word are good things in our life: entertainment, social media, working out, hobbies, leisure, hanging out, working, sleep, etc.

Psalm 107 offers a striking and fresh reminder of what God’s Word does for his people. Psalm 107 is a magnificent statement of God’s personal work in redeeming his people on a day-to-day basis. In verses 17-22, the Psalmist notes how God redeemed his people from themselves:

“17 Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; 18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 20 He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. 21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! 22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
We don’t know the context of Psalm 107, but whatever scene the Psalmist is imagining, we know that the people of Israel had given themselves to sin and suffered because of it. The suffering was so great that they “loathed any kind of food.” They cried out to the Lord for help, which we can presume includes repentance. How does God deliver them? Verse 20 is really surprising: “He sent out his word and healed them.” God’s word is a healing agent that brings about deliverance. This actually makes sense. The people need their hearts healed from illicit desires and they need deliverance from themselves. It is likely that the Psalmist imagines a prophet coming and bringing a word of warning and a call to repentance. Today, we don’t need a prophet. We have God’s word available in numerous editions and a crazy array of formats: print, digital, audio, and phone apps.

Do you find your heart is cold to the Lord? Are you struggling to conquer a frequent temptation? Does life feel discouraging? Are you stressed or anxious about family, your health, your job? Here is your answer: read God’s Word, think through it, pray through it, and respond by obeying it. God’s Word will deliver you from sin, heal your broken desires, and light the unclear path ahead of you.

Go to Church and Participate
This is basic, isn’t it? God’s people love being with God’s people and love sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. Make sure you are a member of a church where the people truly love God and where the pastor gives you a thorough diet in God’s Word. And, when you are there, leave your phone in the car, bring a pen, and engage fully. If you have to, stand up in the back so that you listen. Plan to arrive early and stay late so that you can talk with people. Seek out those who ask you hard questions, those who pray for you, and those you see growing in godliness. The book of Hebrews tells us that being with God’s people will encourage us and stir us up:
“23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Why do we meet together weekly? Chiefly, it is to worship the Lord and sit under the preaching of the Word, but the encouragement of believers is not to be forgotten. It is a primary goal of our gathering together weekly and a primary means of grace in your life. God’s people will “stir” you up. As I’m writing this blog, I have Discovery Channel’s Shark Week on in the background. Some scientists are scuba diving and trying to draw in Hammerhead sharks by dropping some bait in the water. It works every single time. Sharks have an extreme sense of smell. They can smell bait from up to a half mile away—and they can know the exact direction the smell is coming from. The Spirit of God has made us just as sensitive to encouragement from other believers. When we are around other believers, we are going to be stirred up.
Serve Others
When my wife and I were engaged, we went through premarital counseling. In one of the books we read, the author shared a story about a couple whose 20-year marriage was on the rocks. They were both bitter, bored, and emotionally banged up. The counselor asked the husband to do the dishes every night for a month. At the end of the month, the husband reported that he loved doing the dishes because it meant he and his wife had a good conversation every night in the kitchen. They even danced together one night! Could it be that simple? No. Having a healthy marriage takes much more than just doing the dishes. But, this reveals a simple truth: as we serve others, we find that we love them. I’ve heard several pastors tell stories of a hard-to-love couple or counselee with whom they had to spend a lot of time with, but they end up enjoying that time after months of investment. As we serve others, we forget about ourselves. We actively take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Christ. Serving others gives us perspective, fills us with joy, and feeds our spiritual appetite.
Avoid Spiritual Atrophy

There are many good things in life, but sometimes too much of a good thing can take us away from even better things. One of the hardest skills to learn in life is discipline, yet it is discipline that will free you to pursue the great things when the good things crowd your calendar.

  • Will you find time today to read, meditate on, pray through, and respond to God’s Word?
  • Will you commit to joining a faithful church with faithful people? Will you leave your phone in your car? Will you lean in, listen, and engage while you are there? Arrive early and stay late and have real conversations with real depth with godly people?
  • Will you serve others? Today? Who is the nearest person to you right now? Find a way to serve them today and you will find your desire to serve the Lord strengthened. In fact, by serving them, you will serve the Lord.