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The Historic, Messianic, and Humble Birth of Christ (Luke 2:1-7)

This message was originally delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 9th day of December 2015:

Christmas: A Christ-Celebration

Christmas is a pretty big deal. It’s the biggest celebration of the year with decorations of lights, Christmas trees, wreaths, garland, candles, ribbons, and much more. It is a time of buying, wrapping, and giving gifts. We have foods that celebrate Christmas and colors that celebrate Christmas. There is even an entire genre of music dedicated to celebrating Christmas. And while it is true that the majority of the celebratory elements of Christmas have pagan origins, it doesn’t mean Christians today can’t celebrate Christmas. John Piper said recently,

“So my counsel is to give all your efforts to making your children as happy as they can possibly be with every kind of surprise that is rooted in the true meaning of Christmas. Let your decorations point to Jesus. Let your food point to Jesus. Let your games point to Jesus. Let your singing point to Jesus. Out-rejoice the world, out-give the world, out-decorate the world, and let it all point to Jesus.”¹

In any case, we should celebrate during this Christmas season. What happened Christmas night has never happened before, and there will never be anything like it again. It was the day that Jesus entered into human history. Christmas at its epicenter is a celebration of Christ. In fact, that’s what the word Christmas actually means. It is made up of two words: Christ and Mass. Christ meaning Messiah, and mas or Mass meaning a celebration or festival. Christmas is a Christ celebration. 

But why celebrate Christmas? Because Jesus entered into human history. We will see in our passage of Scripture for today exactly why we should celebrate. In this passage, the author of the third Gospel gives us a brief account of the day that Jesus entered the world. It is the Christmas story which is found in Luke’s Gospel, and it is cause for great rejoicing. We will see that the birth of Jesus was historic, messianic, and humble. And we will see the great implications this has for God’s plan of salvation. So let’s read the text:

The Text: Luke 2:1-7

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

I. The Birth of Jesus Was Historic (2:1-3)

First, we see that Jesus’ birth was historic. There were certain historical circumstances surrounding His birth and entrance into human history. There were actual events, also recorded in extrabiblical literature, which God brought about by His sovereignty. They were things which God orchestrated to ensure that Jesus would be born fulfilling the requirements for being the Messiah. Listen to vv. 1-3:

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.”

Luke is describing the historical circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. He says that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for all the world to be registered. This decree was for the purpose of assessing taxes. It was tax time, and Caesar decreed that everyone in the Roman world be registered for this taxation. This registration for taxes was for “all the world,” that is, all areas of the world under Roman rule. For the Israelites and the people of Jesus’ day, this was their whole world – Rome dominated most of the territory. The Romans were mighty in power then and they continued to be many centuries later of course. But God was mightier in power, and He used this decree for His own purposes (as we shall see later).

Apparently, this was the first taxation when a man named Quirinius was governor of Syria. According to history, he was an administrator and a soldier who was usually victorious in his battles. And in v. 3 we read that everyone was submissive to this taxation: “And all went to be registered, each to his own town.” This taxation required Jews to travel back to their ancestral homeland. They would have to go to their own city to be registered. So in order to obey the law, Jews would need to go back to their homelands where they were born and raised to register for the taxation. It is important to take note of this because Mary is about to give birth, and she is not in Bethlehem where Jesus was supposed to be born. Micah 5:2 promises that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” If Mary gave birth to Jesus anywhere else, then Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. He must fulfill what had been previously spoken about Him. You see, Mary was apparently in Nazareth with Joseph. Nazareth was her hometown: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:26-27a). Mary is about to give birth to the supposed Son of God, but they are in Nazareth. If her water breaks in Nazareth, then the Christmas story no longer exists, there can be no Messiah, and God’s promise would have failed; the people of Israel would need to keep waiting for the real Messiah. That’s why the taxation is so pressing for making sure that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem—Joseph would have gone to his hometown to register for the tax. And where would he need to travel in order to register for the tax? Bethlehem. That’s what we happening next. Joseph goes to Bethlehem with Mary right before she gives birth, and ends up giving birth to Jesus in the exact place where the Messiah was prophesied to be born.

So what we have in vv. 1-3 are the historical circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. He was born in real time just like any of us. We were all born at a certain year, when a certain president was in office, when certain things were taking place. If a baby were to have a biography written about his birth today, it might go something like this: “__________ was born when Barack H. Obama was president in 2016, nearing the end of his presidency because Donald Trump won the election.” Jesus was born in history. God was moving Caesar to issue that decree so that Jesus would be born in His prophesied birthplace. God was using history for His story.

II. The Birth of Jesus Was Messianic (2:4-5)

So we’ve seen that the birth of Jesus is historic (2:1-3), but secondly we see that Jesus’ birth was messianic. He was born under several circumstances that would make Him the Messiah. We see in vv. 4-5 that the baby in Mary’s womb would be the long-awaited Messiah who would save God’s people:

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”

Luke now focuses on the family of the child to be born: Mary and Joseph. They leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem, because that was Joseph’s hometown. Joseph is compliant with the decree, and goes back to his ancestral hometown to register for this taxation. And he takes Mary with him on his trip. The mode of transportation is not stated—either they walked, rode donkeys, or took a caravan up to Bethlehem—but in any case, he and pregnant Mary went to Bethlehem.

It is interesting to see that Luke emphasizes messianic themes in describing their journey towards Bethlehem. They went to the “city of David,” and Joseph was “of the house and linage of David.” Why even point that out? Because somewhere down the line, Joseph is related to David. If you were in the lineage of David, it was considered royal—a privilege. David was Israel’s greatest king, and for those who knew the Old Testament, they would have known that the Messiah was prophesied to come from David’s family. He would be born in David’s royal lineage. The Messiah would be the seed of David, He would be David’s great grandson. Listen to these clear testimonies:

“And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13-14).

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2).

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:5-6).

It is palpable that this Messiah-Redeemer-Savior will be born in David’s royal lineage. And who would be Joseph’s son? Jesus. He wouldn’t be Joseph’s son by intimate conception, but he would be his son by divine conception. If Joseph marries Mary, then Jesus would be born in David’s royal lineage.

So, they leave Nazareth and are now in this place called Bethlehem, which is the city of David. They went because this was Joseph’s city—he was of the “house and lineage of David.” They still weren’t married, for Luke says that Joseph went with “Mary his betrothed.” Their marriage had not yet fully consummated. They were still only pledged to be married.

Now, she was not required to be registered with him, but she goes with him anyway. Of course, no couple would want to be separated at such a crucial point in their relationship. So they went together to the city of David to register for the census. Jesus’ birth was about to be messianic. If He was going to be born in Bethlehem, He would be the long awaited Savior who would suffer for sin and bring salvation to God’s people.

III. The Birth of Jesus Was Humble (2:6-7)

We have seen that the birth of Jesus was historic (2:1-3), and that the birth of Jesus was messianic (2:4-5), now finally we shall see that Jesus’ birth was humble. He was born under very humble conditions—as a helpless baby in a manger. Luke concludes the narrative of Jesus’ birth in this way:

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

When they arrived in Bethlehem, it was time for Mary to deliver. She was having contractions, and her water broke. They had better find a local hospital, or an inn (which was a public motel), or somewhere to give birth to the Son of God. They had better let everyone know what’s about to happen. They better roll out the red carpet. But they didn’t—none of that happens.

Jesus was born in very humble circumstances, as a helpless, crying baby in a manger. The time came for her to give birth, says Luke, and she gave birth to her firstborn. Jesus is called here her “firstborn son,” signaling that He would have all the benefits of an inheritance. The firstborn son was always given the family inheritance. That is yet another important detail suggesting that He would receive the benefits of Joseph’s royal lineage. It also indicates that she would have other children after Jesus was born (see Matthew 13:55-56).

Once He was born, Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. These were pieces and strips of clothes bound together, believed to keep the limbs of a child straight. They were wrapped around newborns to help their limbs grow correctly. And she laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the public motel, the inn. The manger, which was an animal feeding trough was the first King-size bed there ever was. This was not a bright and beautiful night, as depicted by many of our Christmas cards today. It would have been dark, smelly, and unsanitary. The birth of the Son of God doesn’t get any more humble than that.

If God has been sovereignly orchestrating the circumstances surrounding the entrance of Jesus into human history, then why didn’t He have a royal place for Jesus to be born? God was clearly working behind the scenes to get Caesar to issue a decree. He was obviously ensuring that Mary and Joseph would be in a relationship, and eventually go to Bethlehem – so why didn’t God prepare a royal throne upon which Jesus could be born? Because the manger was not outside of God’s sovereign decree.

God chose that manger as the place for Jesus to be born. It was a demonstration of His humility—God became a man and took on flesh. Though He was God, He took nothing for Himself—not even an appropriate birthplace. Paul expounds on this in Philippians when he writes,

“Though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

Conclusion

The birth of Christ was historic, messianic, and humble. Just as God has been in control of this world since the beginning, God was in control of the circumstances surrounding His birth. The entrance of sin in the world didn’t throw off God’s plan of salvation – His plan to eradicate sin happened through the entrance of Jesus in the world. Rome’s crucifixion of Jesus didn’t throw off God’s plan of salvation – God’s plan of salvation in Jesus started with a decree issued from Rome. Having no royal place to be born didn’t thwart God’s plan of salvation – He was laid in a borrowed manger at His birth, and He was laid in a borrowed tomb at His death. In God’s sovereign plan, there was a time for Jesus to be born and there was a time for Jesus to die.

God came to earth that wonderful Christmas night so that He would grow up, live the perfect life, and die in our place on a cross, satisfying God’s wrath against us because sin. Then he would raise from the dead on the third day, and anyone who trusts in Him can be saved and have eternal life. Let us celebrate this historic, messianic, and humble Jesus this day. Let everything today be a Christ-celebration.


  1. “Rethinking Santa,” article by Tony Reinke on December 13, 2013; accessed December 24, 2016. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/rethinking-santa

Weekend Reflections: Public Confession and Inviting People to Church

Public Confession & Repentance

We had an interesting experience at church a few Sundays ago, and it’s caused me to do a little reflection of my own. We had a member to come before the church and openly confess their sin. I’ve never seen this done before in my 4 years of serving at this church. It was during the invitation time, where anyone is invited to come forward to pray, have prayer, join the church, or receive Christ as their Savior. Theologically speaking, our church understands that this is not the only time God is at work, but we recognize the importance of the invitation because it is a time to respond to what we’ve just heard preached from God’s word. This person came forward, convicted by the Spirit through the preaching of the word, and confessed openly before us what they had recently done. Now, for confidentiality reasons I cannot reveal any more than this. But what this individual did really had me thinking, Is openly confessing sin like this biblical? Is it biblical or even helpful to publicly repent the way they did?

From Scripture, I am familiar with the command to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16a). But this verse seems to advocate for a type of confession that is more personal in nature – one that is more along the lines of “man-to-man” confession. In other words, the kind of confession James is talking about is confession of sin “to one another.”  It supports more of a personal confession to possibly one or two people.

At the same time, I think there are times when public confession and repentance are necessary. I think it all depends on how serious the committed sin really is. Here’s the principle I think we should use when determining whether a sin should be confessed publicly before the church:

“But as for confession, I think the principle is that the extent of the confession should match the extent of the sin.” ¹

That’s John Piper quoted above. He was asked the question, “When should we confess sins publicly?” I believe that Piper is on target. If a sin committed is very great, the repentance and confession should also be very great. This is where public confession and repentance comes in.

Not all sins carry the same consequences. There’s a world of difference in the extent of sin, when for example, a leader in the church uses foul language or decides to commit adultery. To the Lord, the sins are equally as offensive; to others, the consequences vary. jimmy-swaggart-crying-sinnedThe consequences of a leader who curses the door upon which he stubbed his toe are far less than the consequences of a leader who lives in an adulterous relationship. You may recall that this exact thing happened with the famous evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. 

So with that in mind, as I’ve studied and pondered this unique experience, I want to say first that it took a lot of courage to do what they did. It’s more courage than I can say that I have. And I think there are times and instances where it is helpful and biblical to publicly repent before the whole church, but other times I think that we should not. I think this particular occasion was very appropriate for public repentance – and I believe that it was biblical and helpful. The particular sin they confessed was one that is far-reaching and has terrible consequences – and I believe they did the right thing. The extent of their sin was very great, so they made sure their public confession and repentance was very great as well. And as an aside, they even demonstrated true restoration the next Sunday – the expected results of publicly repenting before the church. It was truly beautiful to witness firsthand.

If only the rest of us could have godly sorrow and repentance like they did over the sins in our lives. We need repentance and godly sorrow like they demonstrated for every sin in our lives – whether the consequences are great or small. I commend them for their courage and for not harboring sin in their lives, but confessing it openly before us. We’re all broken in different ways – God gives us grace to be restored, and we help each other along in the church. The church is a hospital for sinners – a place where we “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Regularly Inviting People to Church

On this same Sunday, we had a special occasion at our church where we invited at least one friend to church with us. Lately, our church attendance has been down, and our pastor has challenged us to be more evangelistically-focused. Particularly in the area of inviting people to church. Now, clearly inviting people to church is not evangelism, nor is it a substitute for it. But inviting people to church is a practical component for faithful evangelism. It’s part of the way we build relationships with those we evangelize – and relationships are essential to discipleship.

We got on board with a program known as Invite Your One, directed and founded by Thom Rainer², the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. invite-your-oneIt’s a church-wide campaign that focuses on inviting at least one person to church with you on a designated Sunday. It’s a practical way to get church members to be more evangelistic and regularly share Christ with people, and invite them to worship at their church. Needless to say, our church was loaded that day – and all of the guests present were friends or relatives of those who invited them. What is truly praiseworthy is that many of the guests returned the following Sunday.

This experience was memorable and it confirmed a belief that I have deeply held for a number of years: building relationships with those we invite to church nearly guarantees they will come. I truly believe that if we will befriend people, saved or unsaved, the likelihood of their church attendance at our churches will increase greatly. People don’t stumble in to churches by random choice these days. In fact, it’s likely quite trustworthy to say that the reason a person goes to one church and not another is because they were invited and welcomed by a friend or relative. They know they will see you when they come – you are the bridge they’ll cross in order to come to your church. They won’t cross a bridge they don’t know.

Once again, this doesn’t replace evangelism – we should preach the gospel relationship or not. But people are more receptive to the gospel when they see it’s transforming power in the life of a friend or relative. And those same people are more receptive to invitations to church services when they are in the life of a friend or relative. So who will you befriend this week? Who is God laying on your heart to evangelize? Who is coming to church with you on Sunday?


  1. Piper, John. “When Should We Confess Sins Publicly?” Desiring God,  19th of May 2008. Accessed 26th of September 2016.

  2. Thom Rainer has a plethora of resources on church growth. Check out his blog here.

How We Have Been Created: With Different Roles and Responsibilities

The doctrine of man as created male and female teaches that man was created for personal relationship, and that both male and female are created with equal value and importance in God’s sight, but male and female have also been created with distinct roles and responsibilities. This is the final characteristic of the doctrine of man as created male and female. Because this is the most expanded teaching of this doctrine in both the Old and New Testaments, it will take longer to explain it fully. We must both acknowledge that these differences were established by God prior to the Fall, and understand that there are differences in roles in marriage and the family because of this.

The difference in roles and responsibilities were established by God before the Fall, and they are not a result of sin. The Scripture offers a substantial account for these differences in roles and responsibilities. Scripture’s testimony conveys that man has been created with a role of headship and authority, distinct from woman, who has been created with a role of submission and nurturing. This does not mean that man is superior to woman, or woman superior to man, as we shall see below. But it does mean that while God created men and women of equal value and importance, they have also been created with different roles so that they will complement each other, and reflect the same complementary fellowship among the members of the Trinity.

For example, it may first be seen in that God created Adam first, then Eve. It is clear that God saw him as having a leadership role in his family, for Adam was already about doing work because God had “put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Second, Eve was created as a helper for Adam. Since it was not good for Adam to be alone, it is clear that God made Eve for Adam, not Adam for Eve. Even Paul states in 1 Cor. 11:8-9, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” This does not mean that man is superior to woman, for in the same passage Paul says that man is just as dependent on woman as she is on man, for “man is now born of woman” (v. 12). Third, these distinctions in role can be seen in that Adam named Eve. He was given that authority by God over the animal kingdom (Gen. 2:19-20), and in a similar way he named Eve “Woman” because she was taken “out of Man” (Gen. 2:23). Fourth, God named the human race “Man,” and not “Woman.”  This suggests, again, that a leadership role belongs to man within God’s created order. Fifth, it is interesting to notice in the account of the Fall that the serpent came to Eve first. Grudem rightly says regarding this, “It is likely that Satan (in the form of a serpent), in approaching Eve first, was attempting to institute a role reversal by tempting Eve to take the leadership in disobeying God.”[1] Since Satan’s desire and object is to thwart the created order of God, it is obvious that this was his intent, thus revealing that Adam was created with a leadership role. Sixth, God spoke to Adam first after the Fall. Even though Eve had sinned first, God came to Adam first and called him to account for what had taken place (Gen. 3:9). It is evident that God saw him as the one to be responsible and accountable for what had happened in the family. Seventh, Adam represented the human race instead of Eve. The Bible teaches, especially in Romans 5:12-21, that Adam sinned as our representative. This indicates that God had given Adam headship over the human race, and this was a role that was not given to Eve though she was also responsible for sinning. Eighth, the curse as a result of sin brought distortion of previous roles, not new ones. When sin was introduced into God’s good creation, so introduced was both a mutilation and abuse of the distinct roles given to men and women. Adam would still be the leader of his family, working the ground and harvesting crops, but the land would not bring forth “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18). Eve would still give birth to children, but now it will take place in great pain (Gen. 3:16). Though Adam and Eve still complemented each other in every way, they will now have conflict and Adam’s authority over his wife Eve would be abused (Gen. 3:16). Finally, we see in the New Testament that God is redeeming those distinct roles through Christ. This must mean that they are part of God’s original created order, if God seeks to redeem these roles in the life of the church through Christ. The New Testament is replete with the imperative to be subject to husbands, and for husbands to love and care for their wives (Col. 3:18-19; Eph. 5:22-23; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).

It is clear from the substantial evidence in Scripture that these differences in role were established by God Himself, and are not a result of the Fall. Any view that says men and women are absolutely equal in their roles and responsibilities simply fails to consult and nuance all the biblical data on the subject. Some argue that the differences in roles between male and female are actually a distortion of God’s creation, and are actually a result of the Fall. Professor and writer Gilbert Bilezikian says,

“The ruler-subject relationship between Adam and Eve began after the fall. It was for Eve the application of the same death principle that made Adam slave to the soil. Because it resulted from the fall, the rule of Adam over Eve is satanic in origin, no less than is death itself.”[2]

While the relationship between male and female is not “ruler-subject,” Bilezikian (and many others in the theological camp of egalitarianism) views the differences in roles as a consequence of the Fall. The implications of this view are drastic. First of all, it fails to take into account the enormous biblical evidence for difference in roles before the Fall (as noted above). Second, it causes a hermeneutical problem by interpreting the Bible (especially the New Testament) through an unbiblical lens. If men and women have equal roles, then there is no need to emphasize submission and leadership in marriage, which the New Testament does so frequently (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:21-24; 1 Tim. 3:5; 5:8). Third, this view does injustice to the heart of this doctrine—having been created in the image of God. We have already seen that being created in the image of God means that we reflect Him, and in many ways His attributes are seen in us because we have been formed and fashioned in His image, after His likeness. Clearly, the Father is seen as having a distinct authoritative role as the Father. So the Son is seen as being submissive (though equal) to the Father. So if men and women have equal roles, then in what way do they reflect the Godhead where there are clear distinctions in roles? Indeed, they do not.

But it is clear that the difference in roles and authority were indeed established before the Fall, but through the entrance of sin there will be a distortion and misuse of those roles. Michael Horton aptly states, “As male and female humanity was the image of God (Gen. 1:27), but now they are at enmity not only with God but with each other.”[3]

Implication(s) for Church Life Today

Theology should always lead to doxology, that is, doctrine should move us to obedience in our Christian lives. Having discussed the doctrine of man as created male and female, there are several implications it bears upon our lives. Too much is at stake for us to carelessly leave this doctrine on a bookshelf. This doctrine carries several connotations concerning the difference in roles and responsibilities. In our American culture, more than ever before, the doctrine of man created male and female is being both neglected and distorted. It is now acceptable in our culture for a biological woman to identify as a man, and be considered just as much a “man” as a biological man, and vice versa. And what’s worse is that this is viewed as equality by its proponents. This movement of transgenderism in our culture should be combatted apologetically, firmly, and gracefully with the biblical doctrine of man as created male and female. The clear differences in biological makeup and roles and responsibilities must be recognized, and they should be encouraged.

Also, in the church those different roles should be acknowledged and encouraged. There are differing roles between men and women so that the church acts as a body, with all the parts “working properly” (Eph. 4:16). Women are called to certain ministerial duties that men are not called to, and men are called to certain ministerial duties that are exclusive to only men. This is God’s design for humanity, the family, and the church. So it should be encouraged and taught in our local churches. There should be opportunities to serve the church for both men and women, and there should be ministries to both men and women. As our churches seek to redeem the family, we should teach men how to be the leaders of their homes, and likewise we should teach the women to be the nurturers of their homes.

Conclusion

Like the most expensive and rare treasure in the world, we are God’s most valuable creation because we have been created in His image. No higher honor could have been given to man than the privilege of being an image of the God who created him. What is truly breathtaking about this is that we have been created in God’s likeness, not as one uniform human race, but as male and female. We have been created as male and female for personal relationships, we have been created with equal value and importance, and we have been created with different roles and responsibilities. This is God’s plan and created order, and we can surely say with David, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14).


[1] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) , 463.

[2] Bilezikian, Gilbert G. Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 41-42.

[3] Horton, Michael. Pilgrim Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 145.

QUESTION: Temptations Are Hitting Me Hard. What Can I Do?

Every Christian faces temptations, and they can come in all different shapes and sizes. The lay workman may be tempted to call his boss something vulgar. The pastor may be tempted to give up on his ministry. The teenager may be tempted to watch pornography. The believing sister may be tempted to keep quiet about the gospel in conversations with her unbelieving brother. Whatever the temptation may be, this facts stands true: we all face temptations. 

So the first thing to understand is that you should not despair when you face temptations, because everyone has them. Scripture says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13a). Paul says here that there isn’t a single temptation that only you are facing. All of mankind faces them. It is even a temptation within a temptation to believe that we are the only ones who struggle with certain sins or desires. But the Bible clearly teaches that believers are still fighting sin, and thus, all face temptations. So don’t feel like you’re the only one.

Secondly, you need to understand that temptation can be overcome.  Turning again to 1 Corinthians, Paul continues: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (v. 13b). The hope we can have in our temptations is that God is faithful, and that He has provided “the way of escape.” While God does not cause temptations (James 1:13), He does want you to endure them and come out victoriously. And the way He does this is by providing for us the way of escape. But we must be willing to take that route and pursue His way of escape. I have a few practical, biblical suggestions for overcoming temptation in your life and fleeing through God’s way of escape:

1) Study and know yourself. It’s good to take a long look in the mirror sometimes isn’t it? We need to know what desires we have a problem with and what situations or people cause us to enter into temptation. What desires do you have a problem with? Find out what situations, places, or people, cause you to have desires for sin. Study and know yourself well. Ask God to reveal that to you as well. Pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).

2) Avoid tempting situations. Keep yourself away from the situations that cause you to sin against God and fall into temptations. You know it does no good to pray, “Lord deliver me from evil,” if we thrust ourselves into it. I heard an old preacher say, “You can’t pray “Deliver me, Lord, from temptation,” if you thrust yourself thither!” Avoid the situations that cause temptations. Don’t park a freshly washed car under a tree full of birds. In other words, don’t try to be clean when you willingly go into areas that will make you dirty! The writer of Proverbs presents a picturesque warning for us concerning flirting around with sin, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). Indeed not.

3) Submit to Christ. When we get saved, we make Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our Savior because He saved us from death, hell, and the grave. He is our Lord because He takes control. But that’s the part that gets us sometimes. There may be areas of our heart that we haven’t submitted to Christ and made Him Lord over. But we must submit to His leadership and will and allow Him to take control of all the areas of our heart—including our desires. It is taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

4) Get satisfaction from God. Desires seek to be satisfied. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be desires. So since desire is the problem, then our desires need to change. How can that be done? By getting our satisfaction from God. If you don’t believe that God can satisfy you, David invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Similarly David says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It’s like eating your favorite food—you keep eating it because of the satisfaction it brings your belly! When you get hungry, don’t you desire your favorite food? Of course you do, because you have a mental remembrance of the satisfaction it brings. It works in a similar way with God. If we will get our satisfaction from Him, we will inevitably begin to desire Him.

5) Walk by the Spirit. Paul says in Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” He says that if we will live each step of our lives submitted to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, we will not fulfill or carry out our sinful desires. The Spirit of God lives in us to enable us to live the Christian life victoriously and He will give us the power to overcome sin if we will submit to Him and walk by Him.

Friend, do not despair. Every believer faces temptations, and every believer can overcome temptations by taking God’s way of escape. Are you willing?


For further study, see Sin’s Greatest Weapon, Empowered to Fight Through Walking by the Spiritand What Happens if a Christian Gives in to Temptation?

War of the Soul: Empowered to Fight Through Walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18)

The Day Peter Parker Was Transformed

Spider-Man is without a doubt my favorite, and probably the best super hero there ever was and will be. You probably know his story. He was a high school student in New York when the bite of a spider exposed to radiation grants Peter Parker all sorts of different powers such as super strength, the ability to shoot webs from his hands, and have “spidey-sense” (which enables him to be aware of danger). That day transformed Peter’s life.

As the story goes on, Peter’s Uncle Ben who is unaware of his powers tells him these famous words before he dies, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Spider-Man had the choice to either restrain his powers, or unleash his powers for the good of others. Many times he restrained his powers and his friends and family suffered, but when he did use them, many people were saved from death at the hands of villains. It seemed like everyday there was a new villain in New York City, and I’ve always wondered if that was just a coincidence.

But since high school, Peter Parker was transformed, and was given an unbelievable power. We have a picture of what has happened in the Christian’s life from this story. We as believers in Christ have also been transformed and the Person who lives in us has incredible power. He is the Holy Spirit who teaches and helps us (John 14:26; Rom. 8:26), He is the Holy Spirit who convicts (John 16:7-15), He lives within us (Ezekiel 36:26-27; 1 John 4:4), and He is the Spirit who empowers us (Rom. 15:13).

However, when we decide to restrain His power, we fall into sin and we have no power to be obedient to God. But when we access His power, we can overcome sin and we will be given the strength we need to carry out God’s commands in obedience to Him.

That’s where our text from Galatians comes in. It teaches us that in order to unleash the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives, we must walk by the Spirit of God in order to overcome sin , and have the freedom from self-effort and power to live in obedience to God. Let’s see how this happens. The best place to start is with the text.

The Text: Galatians 5:16-18, ESV

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

I. The Command to Walk by the Spirit (v. 16)

Notice first the command to walk by the Spirit. The idea in this verse is that if we will walk by the Spirit, we will overcome our sinful desires.

That’s what Paul tells the Galatians. If they walk by the Spirit, they will not carry out their sinful desires. Notice that Paul gives a command and a promise in v. 16 saying, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

A. The Command: Walk by the Spirit

First let’s look at his command: “walk by the Spirit.” We’re going to see first what this means. Paul tells the Galatians to walk by the Spirit of God. And really this term “walk” carries an interesting meaning. It was a Hebrew term that described one’s life, someone’s conduct, someone’s “walk of life.” We are familiar with this in the Old Testament:

“For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him” (Deut. 11:22).

“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’” (Jeremiah 7:23)

This Hebraic term is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to picture one’s life. And life is a lot like walking isn’t it? Walking is something we learn to do. We are taught as a toddler how we are to walk. That’s how life is—it’s something we learn how to do. We learn how to interact with people, develop relationships, get jobs, have families, and so on.

Walking is also step-by-step. Life is a lot like that. It’s just one day at a time—one small step at a time. We learn one thing one day, and another the next. So we understand walking in the Scriptures as talking about our conduct, conducting one’s life, living step-by-step just like walking.

So Paul tells the Galatians to live step-by-step “by the Spirit.” Walking by the Spirit is a continuous, regular action. It is a habitual way of life. It is submitting every step of our daily lives to the Spirit’s control, so that He can move us forward in our Christian lives.

Now, already we live by the Spirit because He gives us new spiritual life. Everyone remembers what Jesus says to Nicodemus about this (John 3:3-6). This religious ruler talks with Jesus at night and Jesus tells him that he must be “born again” to enter the kingdom of heaven. Nicodemus is puzzled at Jesus’ statement, thinking that he means one must go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time (gross right?). But Jesus tells him that He is talking about spiritual rebirth that happens through the Holy Spirit. So it is with every believer: it is by the Spirit that we are born again. We were once dead in our sins, spiritually dead, and unresponsive to God because of dead state (Eph. 2:1). But the Holy Spirit makes us alive, and He takes what Jesus did on the cross and applies it to us. So theologically speaking, we already understand that we live by the Spirit as a believer.

But why then are we also commanded here to live by the Spirit? I thought we already did? Well, we do, but Paul implies here that there is action required of us. We are still to walk each step of our lives empowered by the Spirit. That’s what Paul means when he says to walk by the Spirit.

Think about it. We take many “steps” every day. We make a choice whether or not we will pray and read the Bible in the morning. We make a choice to call other drivers something non-Christian. We make a choice to minister to someone or stay quiet and do nothing. We make a choice to fall into temptation or resist it by God’s power. Every step we take needs to be guided by the Spirit in this walk we call life.

B. The Promise: Overcoming Sin

There’s a wonderful result from walking by the Spirit. Paul attaches a wonderful promise onto this command saying that when we do walk in the Spirit, that if we will make the effort to walk by the Spirit, we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 16b).

There is no negotiating here. You will not gratify the desires of flesh if you are walking by the Spirit. These desires of our flesh are what remains of our sin nature. Yes Christ redeemed us, and yes we are new persons in Christ, but we are not entirely free from the presence and power of sin—and sin has power through our desires. The Bible has much to say about the desires of the flesh:

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14).

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

We will be fighting our old sin nature until the day we pass from this earth and are glorified with the Lord in His eternal presence. But until then, we are in a constant fight.

The only way to overcome the desires of our flesh is to submit each step of our daily lives to the Spirit. To walk by the Spirit. This is ultimately the only way to overcome our sinful desires. There are no other solutions or ways. For some problems, there is only one solution—and this is one of them.

There was a man once who didn’t quite understand this principle of having only one solution to a problem. You may have heard his story. He was a hardworking man who really liked hamsters and snakes as pets. He went to his local pet store one day and bought a well-trained hamster and a well-trained snake. They were so well trained that he decided to let them run free throughout the house as he carried out his daily tasks. One night he came home to find the hamster missing, but the snake very content. He thought the hamster escaped through a hole in the door, so he patched it up, went to the pet store and bought another hamster. He lets them run free again, comes home the next night and the hamster was gone, but the snake was doing just fine. He thought the hamster might have fell through a hole in the floor, so he patches the hole. Day after day he purchases another hamster at the pet store, thinking that they’re all disappearing because of holes in his house. He was trying to solve the problem of his hamsters going missing with all the wrong solutions—there was only one solution to his problem, to get rid of the snake that was turning his hamsters into snacks!

And that’s the way it is with overcoming sin – there’s only one solution overcoming sin in our lives. Often times we try to solve the problem of sin in our lives with the wrong solutions—trying harder, committing ourselves, saying to ourselves, “Never again will I sin in this or that way.” But the only sure solution to overcoming sin is by walking by the Spirit of God. The flesh cannot be tamed, it cannot be reformed, it cannot be trained, and it cannot be improved—but it can be overcome by walking by the Spirit. I wonder if you’re walking by the Spirit today?

If you don’t walk by the Spirit, Paul says of you in Romans 8:7-8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

II. The Reason to Walk by the Spirit (v. 17)

We’ve seen the command to walk by the Spirit, but why is it so important to walk by the Spirit? What’s really at risk here, if anything? And for that matter, who’s to say we can’t walk by the Spirit and commit sin at the same time?

Paul answers in v. 17 by giving us the reason to walk by the Spirit. The idea in this verse is that we must walk by the Spirit because there is a conflict taking place within us between the flesh and Spirit—and we cannot claim neutrality (we can’t be walking by the Spirit and by the flesh at the same time).

There is a real conflict going on that you are a part of. You’re in this because you’re a Christian—you have been saved by the grace of God, God has redeemed you, He has made you a new person and even given you a new heart—but sin still lives inside you. There is some of you that is unredeemed until you will be glorified in His presence one day. So until then, we will continue to have a deadly conflict of desires taking place in our hearts. Paul explains this in v. 17.

Listen to Paul in v. 17, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Paul tells us why it is so crucial to walk by the Spirit, because there’s a war going on!

A. Desire vs. Desire (v. 17a)

He says “[Walk by the Spirit because] the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.” Paul says there is a conflict of desire taking place. It is not a cosmic battle between the flesh and the Spirit somewhere out in space, but a battle between the flesh and the Spirit for your desires.

It is a real, deadly, costly, conflict of desire against desire taking place. And do you know where your desires are located? Your heart. Here’s the thing about the conflict: It’s not happening somewhere outside of you. It’s not happening in the world. It’s not even the flesh coming to you and fighting the Spirit. This conflict is much closer than you might think. In fact, this conflict is closer to you than the Bible in your hands—this conflict is happening in your heart.

“Guard your heart!” says the writer of Proverbs. Why? “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). This conflict is happening inside of us. It is happening where our affections lie, it is happening on the throne of our emotions and intellect. You need to know where it is taking place or it will be as destructive to you as terrorism. That’s the thing about the war on terrorism. We never know where it’s going to be. When the Twin Towers were attacked, we didn’t know it was going to happen. When shootings from terrorists take place, we never know it is going to happen because we don’t know where the terrorists are. They are hidden. Don’t let the same thing happen to your heart. You know where this conflict of desire is taking place. If you are ignorant to this fact, it will be as destructive to you as a terrorist sneak attack.

It is a conflict of desires. Paul says that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.” Even though we’re saved, what remains of our old sin nature still has desires from time to time. We aren’t completely free from those desires. And those desires crave things that are contrary to the Spirit of God. The flesh wants to stifle the Holy Spirit’s work of making you more and more like Christ. The flesh is that which says, “This sin will never hurt!” “Haven’t you done enough for God today?” and things of that nature. Not once has the flesh ever benefited you in your walk with God. Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:33).

I hope you realize that this conflict is taking place, because the only thing worse than a real, deadly, costly conflict taking place is not knowing that it is taking place. The only thing worse than a conflict is not knowing that there is one.

The Holocaust was an atrocity that we did not know was taking place when it was taking place. We had no idea that conflict was going on. Jews fighting for their lives against the Nazi Regime. Communication was almost prehistoric compared to what we have today and there was no way to know that it was going on. When the USA discovered that it was happening, countless lives had already been lost. We didn’t’ know that conflict was taking place, and it caused great damage and many lives were lost. And it’s the same way with this conflict taking place in our hearts. It’s already dangerous that a conflict is taking place inside of you, but if you don’t realize that it is—it is much more deadly. A conflict you don’t know about is the worst kind of conflict.

But notice too, that Paul says the Holy Spirit has desires against the flesh. The Holy Spirit has desires, too. He desires what God desires, for He is God. He wants you to be like Christ and be a purified servant set apart for His purposes. The flesh is completely opposed to that in every sense. So what are we to make of this conflict?

B. We Cannot Be Neutral (v. 17b)

Paul tells us about the results of this conflict in v. 17b: “for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” He adds, “these are opposed to each other.” And that is very clear. The flesh is set against the Holy Spirit in every sense, and the Holy Spirit is set against the flesh in every sense. What the flesh wants, the Holy Spirit hates. What the Holy Spirit wants, the flesh hates.

But what happens because of this opposition and conflict? “to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Paul says that it keeps you from doing the things you want to do. You can’t do what you want to do, because you are either doing what the Spirit wants you to do, or you are doing what the flesh wants you to do. You are not free to be neutral and do the things you want to do. The flesh and the Spirit are fighting each other and their power and influence determine the direction of your choices and decisions—you don’t. You can only do what the flesh or the Spirit wants. You are either controlled by the flesh or by the Spirit.

It’s like taking a long road trip driving down a two-lane interstate road. You never stop driving. You may change lanes to go faster, avoid traffic, or avoid an accident, but you are in one lane or the other. That’s the way it is with the flesh and the Spirit. At all times, you are driving in one lane or the other. You might be driving in the lane of the flesh or the lane of the Spirit, but you will never stop driving. You are in one or the other. You cannot be neutral in this conflict. You are feeding one and starving the other. You can’t feed both at the same time, nor can you starve both at the same time.

III. The Results of Walking by the Spirit (v. 18)

We’ve seen the command to walk by the Spirit (v. 16), and the reason to do so (v. 17), and I realize at this point that we may be tempted to despair because of what Paul has just said about this conflict of desires taking place in our hearts. What hope do we have for overcoming the desires of the flesh? We have great hope. Notice what Paul says in v. 18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

Paul is saying, “Yes, there is a real, deadly conflict taking place, but if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” “Under the law?” It seems like Paul should have said, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the flesh—you are free from its dominion to serve and fulfill the desires of the Spirit.”

But he doesn’t say that. He says that the Galatians are not under the law if they are led by the Spirit. What does he mean then? It seems to interrupt the flow of this passage, but it doesn’t. To understand this, we need a bit of a history lesson.

Law to the Israelites

God gave the Israelites a unique code of law to direct His people in their worship, their relationship with Him, and their social relationships with one another. It served many purposes: to establish them as a nation, to set them apart so they could reflect God’s glory, and finally to show the people their need for Him, thus paving the way for the Christ to fulfill the whole law and take the punishment for transgression against the law.

The people could never keep the whole law. They had no heart transformation in order to do so. So they were promised throughout the OT that a Messiah would come and change their hearts—and many placed their faith in this Messiah who would come.

These promises culminate in a passage in Jeremiah:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

They looked forward to that day when God would write His law on the hearts of His people, when they would be transformed and enabled to carry out His laws.

The Spirit to God’s People

That day came when Jesus ascended after His death and resurrection and the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers in Acts 2. This is the Holy Spirit who would enable them to carry out the laws of God and overcome sin. The old system of self-effort, and not being able to keep the law is one sense of what Paul means by “under the law,” here. It is pre-Christian system of trying to be obedient to God’s laws with no desire or power to do so.

But you’d think after Pentecost the early Christians would know that the Holy Spirit enabled them to do the commands of God and overcome sin right? Wrong. A group of Jews known as the Judaizers came in teaching that you must follow the law of Moses to be saved, and that the only way to overcome sin is by keeping the law. They were trying to solve an internal problem by external solutions. They taught that the law was the only safeguard against sin. They had infiltrated the Galatian church to whom Paul is writing, and Paul is telling them: “If you are saved, you should be walking by the Spirit—and if you are walking by the Spirit you will be led by Him—and if you are being led by Him, then you are not under the old system of law—you are not required to keep the laws of God by your own effort, but you have power to keep the laws of God through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence!”

That’s what Paul means by not being under the law. We might think this is irrelevant. But we do the same thing that the Galatians had a problem with. We think we can overcome sin by our own self-effort. We think, “Things are going to be different this time.” We lie awake at night and say, “Never again.” “Never again will I lose my temper, never again will I get on that website, never again will I take a drink.” We try harder and harder and make more commitments, but we are believing the same lie as the Galatians if we think that there is an ounce of strength in our flesh to overcome sin and carry out the commands of God.

“But,” says Paul, “if you are led by the Spirit,” you can overcome sin and carry out the commands of God. Notice that Paul emphasizes the leadership of the Holy Spirit here. It is not being led by Him for tough decisions, but we will be walking by the Spirit as such a habit that He leads us every day. If we’re walking by the Spirit, then we will be led by Him—led by His power source. Every step enabled and empowered and guided by Him.

Having the Spirit’s presence in our lives means two things:

1.) The ability to overcome sin. The Spirit of God enables and empowers us to trump over the presence of sin in our lives by His conquering presence (vv. 16, 18). Before we were saved, we had no ability or desire to overcome sin, but now we have both, thanks to God the Spirit who lives in us.

2.) The ability to carry out God’s commands. The other side of this coin is that we have the power and ability to do God’s will revealed in the Bible, as we continually submit to His power and leadership in our daily lives.

Paul is telling the Galatians that they are free from self-effort in trying to overcome sin and to carry out the commands of God. I learned about this great truth in a humorous way a few years ago. I was praying outside (it’s always good to pray outdoors right?) and I was saying something like, “Lord, I pray You’d help me to overcome sin by Your power today. Lord, if I think for one second that I can overcome sin and do Your will by my own strength,if I think that I can do this on my own, then I’m going to . . .” And before I could finish my prayer, I slipped on something outside and fell flat on my back. I just laughed after that, and said, “Lord, thanks for that reminder.” Beloved, please understand that the same thing will happen to you if you attempt to overcome sin and do God’s will by your own self-effort, you will fall flat on your back.

If we are led by the Spirit we will have the power to overcome sin and the ability to do God’s commands.

IV. How Can We Walk by the Spirit?

We’ve unpacked this wonderful passage verse-by-verse. So far we’ve seen that we should walk by the Spirit so we can overcome sin (v. 16), then we saw that the reason why we should walk by the Spirit is because there is a deadly conflict taking place in our hearts (v. 17), and finally that we are free from trying to please God by our own efforts (v. 18). But how does one walk by the Spirit? We need to know how. I have a few suggestions.

1.) Acknowledge Your Helplessness. You need to recognize and acknowledge that you need Him and His power to overcome sin and do God’s commands. I’ve heard it said before, “God won’t put on you more than you can handle.” That’s not in the Bible, you know that? If you could handle it, why would there be a need for the power of God? The first step in walking each step of each day by the Spirit’s power is to recognize that you need Him to guide your steps. We cannot overcome sin and be obedient to God without Him. Remember Jesus in John 15 where He says, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5)? You know what you can do apart from Christ? You can sin. But you can’t be obedient to Him and overcome sin.  Realize that you need Him, and acknowledge it before Him. God saved us by the Holy Spirit and He will sustain us by the Holy Spirit. Acknowledge your helplessness.

2.) Trust His Power. This goes hand in hand with #1. If we realize we are helpless, then we must also realize that He is our Helper—and we must trust Him. We may despair and think that God is done with us when we are stuck in habitual sins or feel like we’re not progressing in our faith—but that’s where trusting His power comes in. God is not done with you! “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). We must acknowledge that we need His help and power, and then believe that He will grant it to us.

3.) Allow Him to Control Your Thought Life. There is a close correlation between our thought life and mind with walking by the Spirit. If there is a conflict of desires, and desires are in our heart, and the only way to get to the heart is through the mind, then we need to think on the things that would be pleasing to God. That’s how spiritual growth works and that’s one way walking by the Spirit works. What is going on in your mind funnels down into your heart—influencing your decisions and desires. We need to be thinking His thoughts, and allowing Him to control what goes on in our thought life. And what we’re thinking is revealed by how we live. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8). You need to get the word of God into your heart, but the only way to do so is by getting it first into your mind—this happens by reading and studying it.

4.) Thank Him for the Victories. When you do overcome sin, praise God in prayer. When you are obedient to the Lord by His power, lift up those hands and sing Him a song. “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (Psalm 147:1).

5.) Do It Step-By-Step. All of these things must be done step-by-step. That’s what walking is. It’s not running or jogging. And sometimes walking gets hard—it can be tiresome. But constantly and daily we must acknowledge our helplessness, trust His power, submit our minds to Him, and thank Him for those victories.

Peter Parker’s Greatest Regret

Unfortunately, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man chose sometimes failed to use his powers. Many of his friends died because he didn’t use his powers in the right ways and at the right times, and many times he was defeated by villains. But nothing hurt Peter Parker as much as the death of his Uncle Ben, which he later learned was his own fault.

Spider-Man was trying to make money by wrestling large opponents in a local fighting ring. When he felt like he was underpaid by the owner, he walked away angry. As Spider-Man leaves, a man robs the fighting ring owner and Spider-Man lets him go because he felt cheated. Later that night Uncle Ben dies by a gunshot from a car thief. Later on, Spider-Man discovers that it was the burglar that he had let go in the fighting ring.

Spider-Man lived with the consequences and damage of not using his powers to do good. And this principle applies to us in our relationship with the Holy Spirit. If we are not living step-by-step by the Holy Spirit’s power, it will cause great damage to our relationship with God, our relationships with others, and our witness and effectiveness to our lost and dying world. Are you walking by the Spirit today?


This message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church in Ballard County, KY on the 30th day of August 2015.

QUESTION: What Does it Mean to Walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16)?

This question comes from Galatians 5:16 where the apostle Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The idea in this verse is that if we will walk by the Spirit, we will overcome our sinful desires. So it is imperative that we discover what it truly means to walk by the Spirit. 

This term “walk” carries an interesting meaning. It was a Hebrew term that described one’s life, one’s conduct, or someone’s “walk of life.” This is repeated throughout the Old Testament in various passages like these:

“For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him” (Deut. 11:22).

“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’” (Jeremiah 7:23)

This Hebraic term is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to picture one’s life. It’s another word for living or life. And life is a lot like walking isn’t it? Walking is something we learn to do. We are taught as a toddler how we are to walk. That’s how life is—it’s something we learn how to do. We learn how to interact with people, develop relationships, get jobs, have families, and so on.

Walking is also step-by-step. Life is a lot like that. It’s just one day at a time—one small step at a time. We learn one thing one day, and another the next. So we understand walking in the Scriptures as talking about our conduct, conducting one’s life, living step-by-step just like walking. So Paul tells the Galatians to live step-by-step “by the Spirit.”

Walking by the Spirit is a continuous, regular action. It is a habitual way of life. It is submitting every step of our daily lives to the Spirit’s control, so that He can move us forward in our Christian lives.

Now, already we live by the Spirit because He gives us new spiritual life. Everyone remembers what Jesus says to Nicodemus about this (John 3:3-6). Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born of the Spirit” in order to enter the kingdom of God. This is what happens at conversion. When we trust Jesus by faith and repent of our sins, the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life. It is by the Spirit that we are born again. He takes what Jesus did on the cross and applies it to us—the Spirit gives us life. (Rom. 8:11)

So although we already live by the Spirit in this sense, then why are we commanded here to live by the Spirit (or walk by the Spirit)? Because there is action required of us. We take many “steps” every day. We make a choice whether or not we will pray and read the Bible in the morning. We make a choice to call other drivers something non-Christian. We make a choice to minister to someone or stay quiet and do nothing. We make a choice to fall into temptation or resist it by God’s power. Every step we take needs to be guided by the Spirit in this walk we call life.

There’s a wonderful result from walking by the Spirit. Paul attaches a wonderful promise onto this command saying that when we do walk in the Spirit, that if we will make the effort to walk by the Spirit, we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 16b). There is no negotiating here. You will not gratify the desires of flesh if you are walking by the Spirit. These desires of our flesh are what remains of our sin nature. Yes Christ redeemed us, and yes we are new persons in Christ, but we are not entirely free from the presence and power of sin—and sin has power through our desires. The Bible says that the desires of our flesh are not from God, we should avoid them, and abstain from them because they wage war against our own souls (1 John 2:16; Rom. 13:14; 1 Pet. 2:11).

We will be fighting our old sin nature until the day we pass from this earth and are glorified with the Lord in His eternal presence. But until then, we are in a constant fight. The only way to overcome the desires of our flesh is to submit each step of our daily lives to the Spirit. To walk by the Spirit. This is ultimately the only way to overcome our sinful desires. There are no other solutions or ways. Often times we try to solve the problem of sin in our lives with the wrong solutions—trying harder, committing ourselves, saying to ourselves, “Never again will I sin in this or that way.” But the only sure solution to overcoming sin is by walking by the Spirit of God. The flesh cannot be tamed, it cannot be reformed, it cannot be trained, and it cannot be improved—but it can be overcome by walking by the Spirit.


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War of the Soul: Sin’s Greatest Weapon (James 1:13-15)

Introduction: Something Small Can Be Deadly

How many of you have ever wanted a snake as a pet? Probably not many of you. Most of us do not like snakes because we recognize how deadly they are, don’t we? Not very long ago, I was researching the world’s most deadliest snakes, and I came across many of the familiar ones: the rattlesnake, the viper, and finally the black mamba. 

The feared Black Mamba is found throughout many parts of the African continent. They are known to be highly aggressive, and strike with deadly precision. They are also the fastest land snake in the world, capable of reaching speeds of up to 12 mph. These fearsome snakes can strike up to 12 times in a row. A single bite is capable of killing anywhere from 10-25 adults. The venom is a fast acting neurotoxin. The victim experiences a tingling sensation in the mouth and extremities, double vision, tunnel vision, severe confusion, fever, foaming at the mouth and nose, and depending on the nature of the bite, death can result at any time between 15 minutes and 3 hours.¹

But they are so small. People who die from their bites are not expecting to die from their bites. People go into areas their not supposed to, and unknowingly, BAM! They get bitten. It’s ironic how something so small can be so deadly. In our passage tonight, James the brother of Jesus, warns us about something very small that can be very deadly—our own desires. We probably don’t think about our desires very often, but it is our very desires that cause our temptations. Our desires are the source of our temptations, and if nothing is done about them, there are deadly consequences.

The Text: James 1:13-15, ESV

13 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.

I. The Goodness of God During Temptations (v. 13)

You’ve probably noticed that I have not included verse 12 in with this passage. In your translation, it is likely that v. 12 is part of the paragraph containing verses 13-15 also.  I haven’t included it in this part of the passage because it is a verse that serves as a pause or reflection on James’ previous thought. He had just finished talking about enduring trials (1:2-11), and now he is beginning to talk about temptation and personal sin. So for this sermon, it is better to start where James starts his new thought, and that is in v. 13.

I want us to notice first that James talks about the goodness of God during our temptations in v. 13. And the idea here is that God cannot be responsible for our temptations because He is a good God. James writes first a word of warning and of comfort: “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.”

James presents a scenario of a man who is being tempted and blames God for his temptation. But James says that nobody has the right to say that, or to blame God for temptation because “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot tempt and entice you to sin because He Himself cannot be tempted with evil—He doesn’t face temptations. He doesn’t have the impulse or desire to sin, He’s perfect and completely holy. So then, James says, because God is good and cannot be tempted with evil, “he himself tempts no one.”

Not once have your temptations ever come from God. Not a single time in the history of humanity has God ever tempted any person to sin. All that comes from God is completely and entirely good, because He is good. James writes about that in the next passage: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (vv. 16-17).

God cannot be tempted with evil and tempts no one because He is a holy God. The Scriptures testify:

“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)

“Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!” (Psalm 99:9)

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)

I think we realize at this point that God is good, but why would James feel like it’s necessary to tell us that God is good? Why does James feel the need to remind us that we can’t blame God for our temptations because He is a good God? I think he has a twofold purpose in mind:

1) So that we understand who is truly responsible for temptations. He is going to spell out later in this passage that we are ultimately responsible for the temptations that we face. But notice how James is eliminating the possibilities of who could be responsible for temptation. Already, he has excluded Satan—he’s not even listed. And he has just said that God cannot be responsible for them. This serves a great purpose: the only one left on the list for being responsible for sin is us.

2) So that we understand that God is good—He wants to help us through temptation, not cause us to stumble into them. Adam tried blaming God and refusing to take responsibility didn’t he? God inquired of Adam and Eve for why they ate from the tree which God commanded them not to—and their response? “The main said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). Adam blamed the woman. Listen to Eve’s excuse: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v. 13). Eve blamed Satan. For once in the history of the universe a woman was wrong, can you believe that? I saw a sign once that said “ALL MEN GO TO THE LEFT, BECAUSE THE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.” Just joking of course, but only a little.

The point is, since the beginning of humanity we have not taken responsibility for our sin—but listen: do not doubt the goodness of God during your temptations. He is a good God that is for you, not against you, and wants to provide the “way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

II. The Source of Our Temptation (v. 14)

We’ve seen that God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations, so what is it that causes our temptations? Why are we always slipping up on the same old sins? Why are we being tempted to sin all the time as believers? And why are temptations so frequent? James answers: “[But] each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (v. 14).

The source of our temptation is our own desire. James tells his readers, instead of God being responsible for temptation, “each person is tempted . . . by his own desire.” It’s desire. Desire is the culprit. Desire is problem. Desire is the root and the source of our temptations. The problem is within us—it’s not on the outside, but buried within our innermost beings.

Notice James says that “each person is tempted,” meaning that everyone faces temptations. You can bank on that—you will face temptations. If you didn’t, there’d be no need for this passage of Scripture whatsoever. James uses a fishing metaphor to describe what happens in temptation. Notice the language he uses here: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

Desire is the problem, but what happens in temptation is that we are lured and enticed by our own desires. The Greek word for “lured” here is exelkó, literally meaning to be “dragged away.” It was used to describe when game (whether fishing or hunting) was lured away from its path to bait. So we have the picture of an animal that is dragged away from its usual path to bait that it thinks it needs. Similarly, the Greek word for “enticed” here means to “set a trap.”

So here you have these powerful Greek words that describe a man being dragged away and falling into the trap of sin. And why do we become lured into sin and fall into it’s trap? Well go back to the fishing metaphor that James is using. When you fish, you bait a hook. Before you drop the line in, you cover the hook with a jig and bait—it is so that the fish sees it as something he needs (food) and he goes after it, seeking satisfaction for his hunger. When he bites the bait, we jerk the pole and snag him—lift him out of the water where he dies and then he fries in fish grease so that we can eat him (if you like fried fish, that is).

It’s the same way with sin in our lives. It looks like something we need—it looks like something we need to satisfy us. Sin never appears to be dangerous, did you know that? Temptation never says, “Don’t do this. This will disgrace the name of God and hurt your witness. This will damage your relationship with God.” No, it sounds more like, “This will be fun! This won’t hurt! No one will ever know. Just do it.”

Our desires are deceptive, and it’s important to realize that our desires are the thing that pulls us in. It’s imperative to realize that the real problem is our own desires. Another Greek word for desire here is “lusts,” it is that passionate longing for sin that we sometimes experience. This is because we’ve been born into this world as sinners—naturally inclined to sinning against God. But if we’re born again, we have new natures and no excuse for continuing in the same sins.

But why has this been so important to know? Because we must recognize what the problem is before we can solve it or do anything about it. About a year ago, my office began to give off an awful odor. I looked everywhere for the source of smell. I cleaned the floors, took out the trash, and searched every corner—still nothing. Around this time we had recently been given a new puppy, and obviously he hadn’t been house trained, for I soon discovered the source of the smell. Behind a small guitar stand in my office lay a pile of hardened, old, dog droppings. That’s what the smell was! I cleaned it up, and soon my office was finally bearable. But you see, I couldn’t take care of the problem (the stench) without identifying it. And it is the same with our temptations—we can do nothing about our temptations until we discover what the real problem is: our own desires.

III. The Course of Our Temptations (v. 15)

We’ve already seen that God is a good God who doesn’t tempt us, and we’ve just seen what the source of our temptations are, but what’s the problem with letting our desires have their way? What is really at risk here, if anything? James answers again: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 15)
Our desires, if we welcome rather than resist them, lead to destruction. James uses another image here (as in v. 14) but one of birth. He pictures desire as conceiving and then giving birth, but then giving birth to death. Really, a horrifying image to think about. James has in mind the person who actively responds to his sinful desires. It is a person who has allowed his desires to conceive. And we understand this. It takes effort to conceive a child doesn’t it? It’s never, “Oops, how did that happen?” That’s what James has in mind here. He’s talking about somebody who does nothing about their desires. They welcome rather than resist those desires and then they conceive.

Once conception takes place, then what’s the next step? Birth. So follows James picture here. Once desire has had its way, it gives birth to sin. It doesn’t give birth to satisfaction like you think it does, it doesn’t give birth to pleasure, or prestige, or power—it gives birth to sin. Once birth takes place, then what? Growth and death. And so follows James’ image. He says that once sin has “fully grown,” once it has matured, it brings forth death. That’s where sin ultimately leads—that’s what James is warning us about (Rom. 6:23).

If you do nothing about sin, it will only get worse and worse and ultimately lead to death. Do you know how an avalanche works? What causes one? An avalanche occurs when the snowpack — or the layers of accumulated snow — on the side of a mountain is in some way disturbed, leading to a fracturing of the top layer and a downward torrent of a large mass of the snow. Snow builds over time—it’s not moved, it just builds on top of more snow. Once it gets too heavy, if falls, sometimes killing many people each year.

That’s the way it is with our desires for sin. When our desires grow, when we do nothing about them and they just get worse and worse, then they give birth to sin and then sin brings “forth death.”

IV. How to Fight the Desires (selected Scriptures)

As we’ve unpacked this passage of Scripture verse by verse, James has taught us several things. First, God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations. Second, our desires are—and always will be, the source of our temptations. Third, if our desires are welcomed rather than resisted, great destruction can take place—even death. But finally, I want us to look at a few practical ways we can fight those desires. If desires are the problem, then our desires need to change and they need to be fought. So how can we do this?

1) Study and know yourself. It’s good to take a long look in the mirror sometimes isn’t it? We need to know what desires we have a problem with and what situations or people cause us to enter into temptation. What desires do you have a problem with? Find out what situations, places, or people, cause you to have desires for sin. Study and know yourself well. Ask God to reveal that to you as well. Pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).

2) Avoid tempting situations. Keep yourself away from the situations that cause you to sin against God and fall into temptations. You know it does no good to pray, “Lord deliver me from evil,” if we thrust ourselves into it. I heard an old preacher say, “You can’t pray “Deliver me, Lord, from temptation,” if you thrust yourself thither!” Avoid the situations that cause temptations. Don’t park a freshly washed car under a tree full of birds. In other words, don’t try to be clean when you willingly go into areas that will make you dirty! The writer of Proverbs presents a picturesque warning for us concerning flirting around with sin, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). Indeed not.

3) Submit to Christ. When we get saved, we make Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our Savior because He saved us from death, hell, and the grave. He is our Lord because He takes control. But that’s the part that gets us sometimes. There may be areas of our heart that we haven’t submitted to Christ and made Him Lord over. But we must submit to His leadership and will and allow Him to take control of all the areas of our heart—including our desires. It is taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

4) Get satisfaction from God. Desires seek to be satisfied. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be desires. So since desire is the problem, then our desires need to change. How can that be done? By getting our satisfaction from God. If you don’t believe that God can satisfy you, David invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Similarly David says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It’s like eating your favorite food—you keep eating it because of the satisfaction it brings your belly! When you get hungry, don’t you desire your favorite food? Of course you do, because you have a mental remembrance of the satisfaction it brings. It works in a similar way with God. If we will get our satisfaction from Him, we will inevitably begin to desire Him.

Conclusion: Enchanting But Deadly

For years, workers and visitors flocked to the sight of silvery dust flakes that floated to the floor in a mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. There was a steelworker, Joe Gutierrez who wrote about it. He says that “the snow danced in August.” It was beautiful and enchanting, but it was soon discovered that it was asbestos floating in the air. “Everybody breathed it,” Joe writes. He now suffers from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as do many plant workers.

“Can’t walk too far now. I get tired real fast, and it hurts when I breathe sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job,” he says. Sin is enchanting, sin is pretty and attractive, but it can be a killer. Are you taking the steps necessary to overcoming these desires? Are you avoiding tempting situations? Are you submitting totally to Jesus Christ?


1. Iakhovas. “Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes.” List Verse. March 30, 2011. http://listverse.com/2011/03/30/top-10-most-venomous-snakes/

 

War of the Soul: The Battle Within (1 Peter 2:11)

Introduction: Christian Fights Himself

Have you ever read The Pilgrim’s Progress? It’s an old book from 1678 written by John Bunyan about a man named Christian. He’s on his way to the Celestial City and Bunyan documents all the troubles and victories he encounters along his pilgrimage. It is a wonderful work that represents theological truths through allegory.  It’s a story that represents the believer’s real pilgrimage through this sinful world, as we are on our way to eternity with Christ. For example, Christian encounters Mr. Worldly Wiseman who attempts to sway him from his narrow path, clearly representative of the “wisdom” this world offers to deter us from walking with the Lord. Another example in this story is a man named Evangelist who points Christian on to the right path to the Celestial City, which represents the duty of all believers – pointing others to the right and only path to God.

There are dozens of other characters and events that represent biblical truths through allegory, and I would encourage you to read it. Recently I was reading it and there was a particular encounter that attracted my interest – and it was Christian’s encounter with a monster. Along Christian’s journey, he meets a beast named Apollyon. They fight against each other, and as Apollyon seeks to take Christian’s life, he throws “a flaming dart at his breast . . . [and] he had almost pressed him to death; so that Christian began to despair of life.”¹ Of course, we know that this was an epitome of Satan, powerful Satan, that Christian had fought against. But here’s what is interesting: Christian only fought with Satan for “above half a day.” The battle was brief and momentary – it was deadly, but it was quite pithy when you consider that Christian fought with himself all the way   to the Celestial City. He only battled Satan for a short time, but he battled a war within himself all the way through the rest of his journey. Throughout the rest of Christian’s pilgrimage, he is tempted to give up; he is tempted to go astray; he is full of doubt; he continued to battle within himself.

And this exemplifies a profound but painful truth: no enemy can be as powerful as ourselves. The influence of the world, and the fiery darts of Satan may come and go, but they cannot cause us to sin – we make choices to sin and fall short of God’s glory. And the reason we make those choices are because of desires. So while it is true that we face many other enemies in the Christian life,² none of them can control our actions. Satan cannot force you to sin, because he cannot control your desires – he can only use your sinful desires against you. Neither can the world force you to sin, even with its sinful influences. Only you have the ability (a weakness, really) to act on your desires. Our sinful desires are far more deadly than our adversary Satan, and the world – because sinful desires lead to sinful choices and acts. Scripture states that the source of our temptations are our desires (James 1:14), and that we should overcome them through the power of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). The 90’s rock band Lit had it right when they sang, “It’s no surprise to me that I am my own worst enemy.”

This doesn’t mean we should subject ourselves to nihilism (the belief that life is meaningless), and it doesn’t mean that we should be pessimistic about ourselves. But evidently, the warnings of Scripture about our own sin nature appear to be very serious and urgent. In James’ letter where we are warned that our desires are the source of our temptations, it is because those desires lure and entice us (James 1:14). In Galatians, we are exhorted to walk by the Spirit because there is a war taking place between our desire to sin, and the Spirit’s desire to glorify God (Gal. 5:16-18). In Romans, we are strongly exhorted not to supply our flesh with the weapons that it needs to defeat us in temptation: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14).

Among these warnings about our flesh and sinful desires, one of them is found in 1 Peter 2:11. This is perhaps the most imperative of all the warnings regarding our desires and sinful nature. In this verse, Peter the apostle admonishes his readers: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

Peter has been calling his readers to holy living all throughout this letter – he is genuinely concerned about their sanctification. And one of the noticeable patterns that emerges as you read this letter is that imperatives follow realities. Peter will state what has happened to the Christian, or Peter will state who the Christian is, and he will follow this with a command or exhortation. For instance, Peter states that the believers have been born again (1:3-5), and because of this they are called to set their hope fully on God’s grace (1:13). Or you could look at 1:22-2:3, where Peter exhorts his readers to live sanctified lives because they have been born again. 

This pattern is also found in the verse we just read. This verse follows a statement about a certain Christian reality, and it’s only one verse above it: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (2:10). Christians are God’s people, who have received God’s mercy. And it is on this basis that Peter admonishes his readers to abstain from their sinful desires. Because they are Christians, they have battle to fight – and just like Christian on his pilgrimage, it is a battle within with ourselves.

It is warfare, conflict, and combat. What is true of war is true of the war with our own passions and desires. For Christians, there is a war going on. It is real, it is deadly, and it is costly. It is with this in mind that we now look at this verse together. And as we unpack this passage, we are going to see why we are in this war, what we are fighting, why we are fighting, and how to fight this war.

The Text: 1 Peter 2:11, ESV

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

I. Who We Are (v. 11a)

Peter first describes who we are – we are citizens of God’s kingdom and His holy nation. He says in the first part of v. 11 that it is because of who we are (or better, whose we are) that a war is going on. He says that believers are sojourners and exiles, as he addresses his readers, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles” (v. 11a).

Because we are God’s people, there’s a war going on. There wouldn’t be any battle with sin if we still lived under the dominion and tyranny of sin. But because we are “set free from sin” (Rom. 6:7), and because we are those called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9), we are in a war against sin. That’s what Peter just finished talking about. He told them, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (v. 10). Since we have received God’s mercy, we are His people, now in an ongoing conflict with the sin inside us.

He addressed them as those whom he loves, as those “Beloved,” and then urges and exhorts them as sojourners and exiles. Those are terms used to describe outsiders, foreigners, a group or individual that doesn’t belong or fit in. Peter is saying that we as Christians are citizens of God’s holy nation, not primarily citizens of the society that we live in. As the old song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just-a passing through.” So this is who we are: citizens of God’s kingdom and rule. This echoes Paul, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).

We are citizens of God’s kingdom because He has saved us through faith in Jesus Christ and has given us that privilege. Now this says a lot about the way we should live our lives. Citizens of a particular country conduct themselves in accordance with what is required of their citizenship. A Chinese man does things as a citizen of China that we wouldn’t do as a citizen of the United States. A citizen of an indigenous tribe on the coast of Vietnam has different requirements for citizenship than would a Hispanic living in Mexico.

We are citizens of God’s kingdom and world, so we are outsiders in our own society. This doesn’t mean we should completely abandon our social responsibilities, but it does mean that we should live as citizens of God’s world. Are you living like a citizen of God’s kingdom? Can people see a difference in you?

II. What We Fight (v. 11b)

We’ve seen who we are, and that answers why we are in a conflict. But what are we fighting in this war? What is our enemy? Peter answers by telling us that we are fighting the passions of our flesh, our own sin nature: “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” As one enlisted in battle, we have objectives to carry out. We have a task to be done if we are going to come out of this battle as victors, and that is to refrain from engaging in anything related to our sinful passions. The sinful passions that Peter is referring to here basically means our sinful impulses and desires to sin against God. Even though we are saved, it doesn’t make us immune to experiencing temptations to sin. And Peter calls us to abstain from the desires that cause our temptations.

In many schools today, students are taught about the importance of abstinence from sex before marriage. It’s an important program that I believe every student should go through. Sex is an irreplaceable gift that God has given to a man and woman within the boundaries of marriage, and misusing that gift is like opening a Christmas present that was meant for somebody else. What schools seek to do through teaching abstinence is to help students refrain from engaging in sexual intercourse before marriage. It’s a struggle to fight those impulses, but if we want to be safe and prevent ourselves from seriously damaging our bodies, we should abstain from sexual activity before marriage. Peter has a similar idea in mind. He is telling us to do the same thing with passions of our flesh. He is telling us to refrain and stay away from the  passions of our flesh, because indulging in them can bring great harm upon us, even our own souls (v. 11c).

Abstaining from these passions and desires to sin against God is to be obedient to one of the greatest commands in Scripture: “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-17). We must abstain from the passions of our flesh if we are truly members of God’s kingdom and society (we will see at the end how we can do this). This is our chief objective as soldiers against sin in this deadly war.

III. Why We Fight (v. 11c)

Now that we know who we are, and what we are fighting (the passions of our flesh), then why are we fighting? Why go through all the trouble to fight the sin in our lives? It shouldn’t hurt to indulge in a little sin should it? Peter tells us why it is urgent to abstain from the passions of our flesh and fight with all our might: “abstain from the passions of the flesh [because they] wage war against your soul” (v. 11c).

Our sinful desires wage war, and they do so upon our own souls. Our sinful desires have declared war upon us the moment we crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). The army of sinful desires have encamped around us, ready to ambush at any time – and like any army, sin has great strength. One person cannot wage war against an army, but war consists of armies against armies. So it is with our sin – it wars against us with an entire camp of evil desires.

Peter is also says here that the passions of our flesh target our own souls. They are aiming at our souls, they are shooting at our souls, they are fortifying their equipment against our own souls to wage a deadly war. And this is imperative to realize because our souls are the most valuable thing about us, and if our souls are lost, then everything is lost. 

These passions don’t wage war against our physical bodies, but they seek to destroy our own souls. Everyone has a soul, and our souls are our innermost beings. God gave us all a soul, and it is what gives us life. We are not just fleshy beings with emotions and desires, as today’s evolutionists teach. We actually have souls, and these sinful desires, even though they may seem harmless, “wage war” against our souls. If they are not fought, they can do the most serious damage to us. This is why it is urgent to abstain from the passions of our flesh.

IV. How to Fight (Rom. 8:13; Prov. 6:27; Psa. 51:10; 119:11; 1:1-3)

We’ve seen who we are, which explains why we are in this war. We looked at what we are fighting, and why we are fighting. But we would not do justice to this passage of Scripture without knowing how to fight those passions of our flesh. So how can we fight those desires within? How can we abstain from the passions of the flesh?

1. Depend on the Holy Spirit to overcome the passions of the flesh (Rom. 8:13). The Holy Spirit indwells believers, enabling them to live a victorious Christian life. Galatians 5:16-18 teaches us that if we will depend on the Holy Spirit, submitting to Him consistently, we will overcome our sinful desires. He will give us the power we need to overcome sin. So we must walk daily with Him in order to abstain from the passions of our flesh.

2. Do not allow the occasion for the passions of the flesh (Pro. 6:27). We should not be willingly putting ourselves into situations that we know will light up our sinful desires like a fire. It is meaningless to try and fight our desires if we are putting ourselves in tempting situations that will only supply weapons to our desires. Anyone knows not to park a freshly washed car underneath a tree full of birds – and we should not expect to be clean if we put ourselves into situations that we know will get us dirty. The Proverbs give us practical warnings, and in Proverbs 6:27 we are warned that one cannot expect to remain unharmed or clean if he involves himself in sinful situations.

3. Pray that God would change your desires (Psalm 51:10). If the passions of our flesh are the problem, then they need to be changed. We need to ask God to create within us a clean heart, and continually ask Him to change our desires. When we have a sinful desire present in our lives, we need to combat it with the word of God and with prayer.

4. Get into the word of God, and let the word of God get into you (Psalm 119:11). If there are particular sins you struggle with, memorize particular Scriptures.  We are familiar with Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist there says that his defense against sinning was that he had stored God’s word in his heart. Scripture memory involves not only getting into the Bible, but allowing the Bible to get into us. It is allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). Scripture memorization involves taking time to memorize the Bible, whether a few verses or a few chapters.
It is very beneficial, for we can call to mind a Scripture that is especially helpful for us in a time of need or when we are dealing with our sinful desires. The Spirit of God can’t call to your memory a Scripture you’ve never read or memorized. If the word of God is in you, then you’ve brought the greatest weapon you have to the very place of battle.

5. Remember the results of godly living (Psalm 1:1-3). Keep it constant in your mind that God doesn’t want you to live a life defeated by sin. God wants you to live godly. Living a godly life is living a prosperous life that God blesses, and He blesses our lives when we abstain from sin and associate ourselves with Him and His word: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3).

There is a war going on inside of us – our sinful desires wage war against our own souls. We must fight through the sustaining and empowering grace of God that He will freely give us.


1. Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), pp. 80-81.
2. For further study, please see War of the Soul: Introduction.

War of the Soul: Introduction

In the Beginning, There Was War

Our great country was born in war and, throughout its history, war has shaped this nation. Ever since our birth we have been fighting wars for various reasons, and it has framed our government and expanded our borders. It has united us as citizens but also divided us in dissent and grief. Through the course of our existence as a nation, we have faced an enemy that we felt obligated to fight. From battling the British tyranny in the American Revolution to our current war on terrorism, we have always faced a war with a great enemy.

It true of war that you face an enemy, and to conquer it, you must have the right economic and social resources. This is an ideal image to describe the daily war that takes place in the Christian life. For Christians, there is a war going on. It is real, it is deadly, and it is costly. According to the Bible, there are three enemies that we face: Satan, the world, and our sin nature. All of which are waging an ongoing, costly, deadly war against us.

1. Satan is our enemy. Since creation, Satan has been at war with the people of God. Peter tells us to be watchful, as soldiers, on guard against him: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Contrary to many images circulating on the internet, Satan is not in an equal war against God with his soldiers, with ourselves caught in the middle. Satan is in a war against us, and he prowls around like a hungry lion, seeking someone weak, who isn’t keeping watch. He wars against us by tempting us to sin, deceiving us, and sometimes inflicting us.

2. The world is our enemy. The worldviews, desires, and influence of the world is at war against us also. The world’s ideas, desires and influence are against God and against Christians. You can see this evident more today than ever before in the history of the world. Today, the basic tenets of the Christian worldview are considered as hate-crime or arrogance. James tells us that we are to keep ourselves from being influenced by the world and associating with its worldviews and desires: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Because we are different, because we are God’s people, we suffer persecution and rejection from the world because we are “not of this world” (John 17:16).

3. Our sin nature is our enemy. Satan is powerful and the world can exert a strong influence on us, but no enemy is as powerful as ourselves. The 90’s rock band Lit had it right they said, “It’s no surprise to me that I am my own worst enemy.” The Bible does warn us strongly about keeping guard against Satan and the world, as the Scriptures above testify. But no warning is as strong as the warning against our own sin nature: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). No other passage of Scripture is as stark in its warning. The passions of our flesh wage war against the most valuable thing we possess: our souls. 

We are all fighting a war of desire to do what God wants, and to do what we want and commit sin. In this series, we will see what we are fighting, why we are fighting, and how to battle what we are fighting. The outline of the series is as follows:

1. The Battle Within (1 Peter 2:11-12)

2. Sin’s Greatest Weapon (James 1:12-15)

3. Empowered to Fight (Gal. 5:16-18)