When to Run and When to Stand: How to Fight Spiritual Battles

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We’re working our way through the book of Colossians in our Ladies Bible study group at BCF. Yesterday we looked at Paul’s warning: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). So we posed the question: what are we watching for? Two points stood out from elsewhere in the Scriptures:

When Jesus confronted his three closest disciples who were asleep in the garden, he admonished them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). So the lure of temptation is one area where we need to be watchful.

Then Peter, who was one of the three, gives us another saying, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality and work of the devil is another.

How are we to handle these two?

The conventional wisdom is to resist temptation and flee from the devil; but what does Scripture say?

About temptation, Paul said, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we face temptation, we take the way of escape. We flee. We run. We get away from the source of temptation, be it a place, a person, a website, or the office breakroom.

And when it comes to dealing with the devil, Peter’s warning continued: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter 5:9). We resist the devil, standing firmly and confidently behind our shield of faith in the God of Christ our Lord.

So the conventional wisdom is completely backward – Scripture tells us to resist the devil and flee from temptation. No wonder we’re falling so easily to the enemy.

Why does this matter?

Because as 1 John 4:4 reminds us: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” If you are in Christ Jesus, then Christ Jesus is in you through His Holy Spirit. The very same Christ who has already overcome the devil. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, the devil has no authority over you. None. And you need to stand firm and remind him of that when he comes roaring at you. Because all he can do is roar.

And because, as Jesus admonished his sleepy disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Your flesh, the part of you that responds to temptation, is weak, even as a Christian. Though we are set free from the power of sin, we are still bound to our fleshly nature that desires sin. Paul said, “I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing” (Romans 7:18,19)

Christ has already defeated the devil, but you and I will battle our flesh every day of our earthly lives.

Understanding the enemy and his tactics is vital – not just to surviving – but to thriving and growing and carrying the cross of Christ into a lost and dying world. You need to know your enemy Beloved. But more than that, you need to know your Savior. He has already claimed the victory over the devil. And He will give you strength – to flee when you face temptation and to stand firm when the lion roars.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

I am a Child of God!

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.  At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:11-12).
The Father’s words over Jesus came at His baptism, when the Spirit descended on Him as He came up out of the water.  God confirmed that Jesus was His beloved Son, and that He pleased His Father greatly.  It was a tender and powerful moment – and it was a moment of preparation for what was to come.  Mark says that “at once” Jesus was led by the Spirit into the place of temptation.  Matthew fleshes out the account of Jesus fasting for 40 days and Satan throwing temptations at him, which Jesus deflected, shutting the enemy down.
What caught my attention this morning are the words of the Father just before the temptation. Jesus was able to resist and reject Satan because the Father’s words were still ringing in His ears.  “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Beloved, the Father speaks those same words over you and me.  “You are my son, you are my daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  Because we are adopted into the family of God when we believe in Jesus, we become His sons and his daughters.  We are as loved by the Father as was Jesus (John 17:26).  Our faith is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 11:6).
Every day you and I enter a wilderness.  Every day Satan tries to drag us into sin.  He dangles temptation before us like a carrot on a stick.  What if, before your feet hit the floor every morning you remind yourself, “I am God’s son, I am God’s daughter, my Father loves me, and He is well pleased with me.”  Would that make a difference in how you respond to temptation?  I believe it would.  What if, when I sense the devil playing his old tricks again, I spoke those words out loud where he can hear me.  I expect he would tuck tail and run. I believe with that assurance in our hearts and on our lips, you and I will be empowered to stand firm against the enemy.
Beloved, if you are in Christ, you are a child of God – it’s not something you have to earn or measure up to – it is your place.  You have every benefit and blessing of being part of His family.  That includes the right to claim your Father’s love and His pleasure over you.  Don’t let the enemy shake you – stand firm in who you are and Whose you are.

Why I Quit Resisting Temptation

hand-stop“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” Ephesians 6:10.

Have you ever resolved to resist temptation?  How’d that work out for you?  Yeah, pretty much the same for me too.  No matter how hard I gritted my teeth or how many times I told myself, “Don’t do this!” the outcome was usually the same.  Humiliation, regret, and failure.  I crept before God with guilt and shame asking for forgiveness—again.  I get so frustrated with myself for this repetitious cycle of determination followed by a side glance at my old faithful “guilty pleasure” and finally defeat at my own hands.

I believe the reason we have so much trouble with temptation is because we’re doing it all wrong.  I grew up like most of you hearing the mantra: “Resist temptation and flee from the devil!”  But a closer look at Scripture reveals that the Bible doesn’t tell us to resist temptation.  Nor does it say we must flee from the devil.  The Bible actually turns the statement around; we are commanded to resist the devil and flee temptation.  No wonder we’ve had such a hard time with temptation!

Consider Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:10-20, the Armor of God.  In fact, go grab your Bible and read that passage.  I’ll wait for you right here.  Notice that four times in verses 10-14, Paul tells us to “stand.” For three of those “stands” he uses the Greek word that means to stand firm, to establish— saying we must take a firm stand on the truth.   However, the first “stand in verse 13 is anthistemi, which means to oppose, rebel and withstand.  Paul is saying “when the day of evil comes, you strong stand and actively oppose and rebel against the evil attacks.  And this is the purpose for all the pieces of the Holy Armor.

Peter agrees as he says in 1 Peter 5:9 “Resist the devil, standing firm in your faith.” Peter uses similar terminology as Paul; again commanding us to actively resist the devil while we stand firm in our faith in Christ Jesus.

However, when it comes to temptation, we don’t resist, we are told to flee!  The Bible couldn’t be any clearer: run away from temptation.  Don’t stand there trying to stare it down and think you’re going to win, because you won’t.  Paul commands us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14), “flee from false teaching and from greed” (1 Timothy 6:3-11), and “flee from evil desires” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Why this dual command to resist the devil and flee from temptation?  One reason is because if you are in Jesus Christ, you have already claimed the victory!  The devil is a defeated foe, and he knows it—and you need to know it too.  Remember the word anthistemi?  One of its definitions is to rebel.  You can rebel against him because, as a child of God, the devil has no authority over you. None.  You can stare him down and say, “You’re not the boss of me!” and he can’t argue with you.

The other reason is because temptation taps into what is within us.  Hear James on this: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14).  That temptation reaches in to that sinful nature that lives in every man and battles for control of the believer.  Though we are new creations in Christ, those sinful desires still exert a tremendous amount of influence, and this is where the devil throws those powerful enticements in our face.  He’s playing on our weakest area, our old sinful passions.  So we must flee temptation if we want to walk in the victory Christ won on our behalf.

God has not left us to fight on our own.  He is so faithful to help us in this battle of the flesh.  The Greek word Paul uses for flee means to run away from, elude, to escape.  Now keep this thought in mind as you read 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (RSV).   God provides the way out of temptation.  You don’t have to stand with fists clenched and face it.  Take the escape hatch and run—don’t walk—from the thing that causes those sinful desires that rise up within you.  That may mean shutting off the computer, turning off the television, walking out of the bar, finding other people to hang out with it, or not going someplace where you know temptation lives.  God makes the way of escape, but you must take it.

When you put yourself in God’s hands and follow His commands you will gain the victory over temptation and sin.  Here is a promise from James on which you can firmly stand:  “Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, emphasis added).  Run away from temptation, but take your stand against the devil.  Now we have this in the right order!  Ready to send the devil running?

Mighty Jesus – because of Your blood I have been set free, because of Your resurrection, the devil has no power or authority over me.  Teach me to walk in victory every day as I both run from temptation and stand against the devil.  No power on earth can defeat me because I’ve already won in You!  Amen.