When I was in ninth grade, I attended a weekly prayer group. After a meeting one Friday evening, a young woman asked for prayer to address her extreme anxiety. Eight or ten of us trooped up to a Sunday school classroom, gathered around her, and began to pray.
Hayward, a new member, boomed out, “SATAN! In the N-A-Y-A-M-E of Jesus … BEGONE! You have NO authority here!” His fiery blast was my first exposure to battling the devil.
By the time I graduated from high school, the idea of fighting evil spiritual forces was almost passé. The Exorcist came out in 1973; Derek Prince was giving conferences on Spiritual Warfare; and Comedian Flip Wilson popularized the phrase, “The devil made me do it.”
Christians always taught there are four enemies of faith: the world, the flesh, sin, and the devil. While the devil was a surprise to me (I can still hear Hayward’s roar), every teenager knows (and knows intimately) what the flesh is. Paul even says, “The acts of the flesh are obvious.”
But: while believers have heard scores of talks on battling the flesh and evil spirits, I believe the most dangerous enemy—and certainly the most insidious—is the world. We are blind to the dozens of areas in which we have already capitulated.
We’ve waived a white flag, thrown down our weapons, and surrendered without firing a shot.
Because It’s Hidden
Shakespeare was probably the most brilliant English writer ever. He was the kind of thinker that comes around only once every five hundred years. He was insightful, witty, and articulate. He was also racist and sexist.
Shakespeare was so smart that he was literally one in a billion. Despite his brilliance he was blind to his own flawed views of life. If that is true (and it is!), what hope do we have that our own modern viewpoints are any closer to perfection? In a hundred years our great grandchildren will be embarrassed at the things we believe. (My own children probably already are.)
My English professor defended Shakespeare, saying, “While he was brilliant, he was also just a man of his time.” Let’s admit we too are “men and women of our time,” and equally oblivious.
Every era has a zeitgeist—literally a “spirit of the age”—that feels so right we can’t imagine any other answers. This inner cultural-blindness is the world, the spirit of this age that shapes beliefs and behaviors that other generations, before (and after) us will think comical or stupid.
The world is a sinister gravitational force that sucks us into a system of answers to the problems of life; answers that have no need of God.
It’s Not What We Think
When I ask people what the “world” means, they point to things like the explosion of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” in the 1960’s. While that season expressed a hint of the world, it doesn’t explain its full force. Drunkenness and sexual immorality have been around for thousands of years (just ask Shakespeare). Paul identified them with the flesh. They weren’t an invention of the sixties.
When I was in high school, some Christian couples slept together before marriage, but they didn’t do it openly, and they wouldn’t defend it. They were mortified when they got caught.
The difference today is the absence of embarrassment. When I give premarital counseling to young Christian couples, the vast majority are openly living with each other. They don’t have more sexual temptation than we did at their age; they have an inner belief that approves it.
What removed the stigma? Was there a scientific research venture the size of the Manhattan Project that overthrew centuries of social observations, respected moral rules, and opposed to every religion? Not at all. It happened by beliefs snuck into our unconscious collective.
Every era has its own version of the world’s influence, beliefs that they accept … just because.
In the arena of spiritual warfare, the desires of the flesh are most obvious; the lies of Satan are most crafty; but the beliefs of the world are most dangerous. Because they feel so right that we cannot imagine a different world.
It’s not the enemy in front that harms us most, it’s the flanking assault we don’t even see. In Jurassic Park, Dr Grant explained raptor strikes like this:
“That’s where the real attack comes, not from the front but from the side, from the raptor you didn’t even know was there.”
What philosophy or psychology or morality have we adopted simply because everyone else around us believes them, because they just feel right, and any other idea seems so old-fashioned?
Excellent article! Made me ask myself “in what ways have I conformed to the world without even realizing it?”
Great question! And so hard to answer.
CS Lewis suggests we read old Christian books, from a previous generation. In that way, we’ll recognize things in our hearts we never knew were there, so they will surface for us our own cultural conceptions.
So good! I was pondering this matter the other day and an onset of discouragement began challenging my faith. It is here that I urge myself to focus my thoughts, give thanks and pray gratefully for mercy which will comfort and help me navigate the deadly minefield of the “world”. None of us exit this life without wounds and brokenness. In the end isn’t really about the Father’s mercy?
Yes, it is about the Father’s mercy. And I think the world wants to water down his mercy (the world HATES grace), so they do it by watering down our sin. They world hates for us to sense the enormity of our sin because feeling it would also let us see the enormity of his mercy.
Good post, as always Sam!
You rightly discern that the enemy seeks to attack us from our side, where only our dim peripheral vision could possibly spot him. In that “half-light” It is easy to mistake him for something “not very threatening”.
Only by reading the Word and believing what it teaches us, can we be defended against the enemy’s crafty attacks.
As the Word says in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all, without reproach, and it will be given him.”
We should always seek the wisdom of God through the Holy Spirit, in our everyday lives, to avoid being tricked into a false belief (because belief ALWAYS precedes behavior).
The in 3 John 2 John says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things, and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” I believe that is the Lord’s will for all believers. When we try to modify the Holy Spirit’s instruction by what society seems to feel “is right”, we open ourselves to a shaky path. While that path might not lead to “our destruction”, it will certainly impede our long term Joy in the Lord. It will also put our Earthly relationships with others at risk. Blessings to you!
Some of the danger is we don’t see the enemy; but more than that, the enemy’s answers appear like an angel of light. We embrace the world’s answers like: prosperity gospel (not Biblical!) and prosperity health (not Biblical), and a host of other false answers like: self-esteem, self-love, self-assurance, etc.
They are whitewashed tombstones that look good on the outside but inside are filled with dreadful things.
Sam, as I open my eyes each day, that which I claim, I believe, often is tainted by everything around me – yes, the WORLD. An example, I love to read spiritual books that appear to be connected to my greatest source – the BIBLE. In recent years, I have become aware of the impact many Christian writers have had on my perception of the “truth”. As you indicated Sam, this can be very dangerous when we allow other peoples views of the world to impact their understanding of scripture. A most fervent prayer of mine is for daily blessings of insight, wisdom, understanding and knowledge from the Spirit within me. Thank you, Sam for your commitment and convictions that bring light to those who are seeking to live in this WORLD but not be of this world. Sincerely Len Wisniewski [though I am nearly 72 and many or my natural thoughts are fuzzy, spiritual insight seems to be growing.]
I agree, we need the Holy Spirit to speak to us; and one of the best ways he speaks to us is when he opens the Scriptures to our hearts and convicts us (in the kindest way 🙂 ) of the Trojan Horses we’ve let into our hearts.
Leonard – I’m 72 and although I can’t find my glasses most of the time, I still know what’s going on, and I bet you do too. Even your fuzzy thoughts have to make more sense than what some of our leaders (elected officials) come out with every day.
What a big topic, Sam! How did we get from sit-coms in the 60s where the couple had twin beds to Netflix giving us a movie about 9 year olds learning to move like strippers and calling it a “coming of age” story. There’s a whole generation that’s been taught that you shouldn’t feel bad, when feeling bad is what brings you up short about what you’re doing. Now that it’s been institutionalized and objectors are bigots, prudes, wacko fundamentalists, etc. – just where do you raise your voice, where do you champion a higher standard, or even argue for common sense? Verbal insults are no longer enough – you stand for the truth in an open forum then you better be wearing your running shoes. I pray for a new movement for the Lord, since the enemy sure seems to have unleashed a surly mob, and most of them used to be our sons and daughters. Have we been complicit in letting this happen – certainly. Can it be reversed – of course, but it’s going to be a long and costly fight.
The good news is the enemy now longer feels the need to hide – he’s right there waiting for you to step up.
I’ve spent most of my life switching between a fundamentalist avoidance of books, movies, etc. that might have forbidden content on the one hand, and appreciation of my dearly loved sci fi / superhero / fantasy genres on the other.
A good bro in Christ and Baptist pastor I know is lenient on the teetotaler stance of his denomination, but is convinced that women legally voting is contrary to scripture.
I’ve mulled on the matter much of my adult life…what can be squared with scripture, teaching, and my own conscience? And I’m no more settled in my 60’s than I was in my 20’s.
Teachers of every stripe can be found to excuse or condemn whatever thing is the topic of discussion. And one’s own conscience can be a marvelously malleable or unstable thing.
There’re those who condemn Shakespeare, btw…his plays are problematic because they contain ghosts, witches, suicide, etc. Similar with Tolkien and CS Lewis.
Thanks for sharing. My post meant to make two points:
1) Much of our belief systems are shaped by the culture around us, and even the smartest are affected.
2) So we believers need to vigilant in examining our beliefs in light of Scripture (and not examining Scripture in light of culture).
Yes, this is really difficult, just like the issues you raised (drinking, media, etc.)
However: parenting is more difficult (in my mind) yet my wife and I didn’t shy away from it. Sometimes the best things result from difficult pursuits.
And as believers in this highly influential and spiritually-rebellious world, we need to be especially careful.