We should have neither morbid fascination nor immobilizing fear when it comes to the spiritual battle we face. It should actually be part of our growth.
But in thinking about spiritual warfare and spiritual formation, we need to look at the relationship between two concepts: temptation and spiritual warfare.
So, what is the difference between temptation and spiritual warfare?
How does a proper response to temptation and spiritual warfare strength our growth and prepare us for greater growth?
Though many people want to blame Satan for all our sin, James states that we are tempted by our own desires.
James 1:13-15 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (ESV)
Does that mean that Satan is not involved or simply that we can’t blame him for our sin?
If you look at passage that deal with temptation we see a consistent call to “flee.”
2 Timothy 2:22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (ESV)
1 Timothy 6:9-11 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. (ESV)
1 Corinthians 6:18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (ESV)
1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (ESV)
See also narrative of Joseph, Genesis 39:1-20
Flee indicates we have a choice
Flee usually requires not only “stopping” but replacing
If you look at passage that deal with spiritual warfare we see a consistent call to “stand firm” or “resist.”
Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (ESV)
1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (ESV)
1 Corinthians 16:13-14 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love. (ESV)
2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (ESV)
1 Peter 5:12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. (ESV)
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV)
Stand firm indicates we have a choice
So what is the difference or relationship between spiritual warfare and temptation?
My proposal is simple:
In spiritual warfare, Satan is trying to keep us from doing something we should do therefore we are commanded to stand firm–keep doing what we should do.
When facing temptation, our flesh, the world and Satan are trying to get us to do something we should not therefore we are commanded to flee (and pursue righteousness).
Satan’s strategy with Christians is to keep us out of his way or to cause usÂ to be a hindrance to the gospel.
Through spiritual warfare, the devil is trying to keep us from doing what we should be doing—
Standing for the truth
Sharing the gospel
Maintaining the unity of the body
As a matter of fact, what led me to this observation comes from the end of the most “famous” passage on spiritual warfare
Ephesians 6:18—20 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (ESV)
Ephesians 6:19-20 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. NIV
Paul’s request for prayer in the midst of spiritual warfare was for fearless proclamation–that he would stand up and do what he should do.
What is interesting about this is that we tend to reverse the process.
When it comes to temptation, we want to stand and fight. We want to beat it “this time.”
When it comes to warfare, we tend to run. We give in to fear–what will they think of me if I tell them I am a Christian? What will happen if I don’t go along with the gossip in the church?
But the instructions are clear.
Flee temptation–don’t give in to what you should not do.
Stand firm for the truth against the schemes of the devil–don’t give in, do what you should do.