The Bible explains that there are three forces — the world, the flesh, and the devil — which constantly wage war against the believer. Let's look briefly at each of these forces.
1. The world
I don't know anyone who loves this world who has ever been used of God in any significant way. There's nothing wrong with money and other material success. However, you must wear the cloak of materialism loosely. You must set your affection on Christ and his kingdom, not on the material things of this world. 1 John 2:15-17* *warns:
"Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love these things you show that you do not really love God; for all these worldly things, these evil desires — the craze for sex, the ambition to buy everything that appeals to you, and the pride that comes from wealth and importance — these are not from God. They are from this evil world itself. And this world is fading away, and these evil, forbidden things will go with it, but whoever keeps doing the will of God will live forever."
2. The flesh
God's Word teaches that the spiritual Christian should be prepared for battles with the flesh. You will have conflict in your life so long as you live. There will never be a time in this life when you are free from temptation. Galatians 5:17 says,
"We naturally love to do evil things that are just the opposite from the things that the Holy Spirit tells us to do; and the good things we want to do when the Spirit has his way with us are just the opposite of our natural desires. These two forces within us are constantly fighting each other to win control over us, and our wishes are never free from their pressures."
All people, no matter how spiritually mature in Christ, experience temptation and have a tendency toward sin. There is a difference, however, between temptation and sin. Temptation is the initial impression to do something contrary to God's will. Such impressions come to all men and women, even as they did to our Lord, and are not sin in themselves. Temptation becomes sin when you meditate on the impression and develop a lustful desire which is often followed by the actual act of disobedience.
Yet this conflict is largely resolved when you, by an act of your will, surrender yourself to the control of the Holy Spirit and face these temptations in his power. Galatians 5:16 says,
"Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature."
How do you do this? For practical daily living you simply recognize your weakness whenever you are tempted and ask the Lord to take care of the problem for you. When I am tempted, I often remind the Lord that I belong to him and need his help. I ask him to cleanse my mind and thoughts with his blood and control and empower me with the Holy Spirit so I will not yield to any temptation.
3. The devil
Satan is a real foe. Let there be no mistake about it — and we need to be prepared for conflict with him — alert to his cunning and subtle ways, as well as his obvious attempts to defeat and destroy us. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says,
"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering."
A young minister shared with me one day, "I am afraid of Satan."
I said, "You should be afraid of Satan, if you insist on controlling your own life. But if you are willing to let Christ control your life, you have nothing to fear because the Bible says, 'Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world'" (1 John 4:4).
"Satan was defeated 2,000 years ago," I explained, "when Christ in fulfillment of prophecy died on the cross for our sins. Though Satan has great power to influence man, he only has the power which God has granted him. That is why, in the face of great persecution, the disciples could pray to God in his sovereignty and power, 'They won't stop at anything that you in your wise power will let them do'" (Acts 4:28).
My minister friend happened to live in a city with one of the largest zoos in the world. I said, "What do you do with lions in your city?"
He replied, "We put them in a cage."
I said, "That's exactly what God has done to Satan. Visit the cage in the zoo and watch a lion pacing impatiently back and forth. He cannot hurt you. Even if you go up close to the cage, he still cannot hurt you if you are careful. But get in the cage, and the lion will devour you. You have nothing to fear as long as you stay out of that cage. Similarly, you have nothing to fear from Satan as long as you depend upon Christ and not on your own strength. Remember, Satan has no power except that which God in his wisdom allows him to have."
The apostle Paul warns us, "Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand sage against the strategies and tricks of Satan. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies — the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world" (Ephesians 6:11-12).
Although Satan and the forces of darkness are dangerous foes, and you must be alert to the way Satan works, you need have no fear of him — if your life is surrendered to the lordship of Christ, if you continue to walk in faith and obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even though Satan is an expert at deceiving and inducing Christians to disobey God, you need not fear him. Remember, the Scripture says, "Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). But if you continue to be a worldly Christian, you had better be ready for some real problems in your personal life, your family, and your church. There is no more dangerous and vulnerable place a Christian can be than to live outside God's perfect will as a worldly or carnal Christian.