One of the most challenging and dangerous aspects of the warfare the United States has engaged in over the last several decades is that the enemy is not easily recognizable. Gone are the days when every combatant wore a uniform that immediately identified him either as friend or foe. Today, particularly in Middle Eastern countries, enemy soldiers dress in street clothes and appear to be civilians. It is often impossible until it’s too late to determine whether someone approaching is friendly or hostile. Innumerable soldiers have died for no other reason than the fact that they were not prepared to defend themselves from an attack instigated by an enemy they had mistaken to be a friend. A good argument can be made for the idea that the most dangerous thing about the three enemies that seek to destroy the believer is that we fail to recognize them as enemies.
Consider Satan. He never approaches us with his claws bared, so to speak. He comes disguised as “an angel of light” (see: II Cor. 11:14). In that costume, he might well use the Word of God, as he did with Christ when he tempted Him in the wilderness. He may send a false teacher to misquote it. He may attempt to encourage us to take a verse out of context and misapply it. He also may attempt to convince us that some strongly held opinion is of the Lord because, surely, we could not have such a strong conviction without God being in it. Or he might try to deceive us into believing that our powerful emotions regarding some issue, activity, or doctrine are God’s “amen” that what we believe is right. He is capable of inserting thoughts into our minds that are sinful or contrary to the truth of God’s Word with such deceit that we think they are our own thoughts and embrace them without prayer or careful examination. Recognizing and unmasking this enemy requires constant vigilance and a determined effort to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:5b).
Note the world. The term world speaks of all that is under the vice regency of Satan; it is the realm of tangible things and activities that are part of the system that the devil has been permitted to control since the Fall. It is a realm permeated by sin and sinners, yes, but it is also filled with many attractive enticements. Not all that occupies this world is overtly sinful. In fact, one of the greatest perils presented by the world is that much of what it offers is not sinful in itself; but only becomes sinful when misused or overused. Playing a sport or watching a television program, for example, may not be a sinful activity, but if that activity supplants something God wants us to do or if we devote excessive time to it, it becomes sinful. It is so easy to rationalize worldly activities and attitudes that we can very quickly forget that this world belongs to Satan and is the enemy of Christ and those He has saved.
Reflect on the flesh. Perhaps the greatest enemy of all is our flesh, that clandestine and subversive old nature that dwells within us, unredeemed and unredeemable. It remains so much a part of us, even in our regenerate state, and so perfectly embodies all our sinful thoughts, desires, and motives—what the unregenerate part of us wants so intensely—that it is easy to forget that those ideas, plans, and wishes act as a fifth column within trying to destroy us. Paul described it this way: “I see a . . . law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind [the liberty to obey God that is the product of salvation] and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). Paul recognized the enemy, but far too many believers do not. What the flesh wants and the immediate results of satisfying its cravings are far too pleasant to recognize, or at least to acknowledge, that doing so is to be defeated by sin.
Peter’s warning to believers to “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert” (I Pet. 5:8a) regarding “your adversary, the devil,” certainly applies to all three enemies that attempt to defeat us in our Christian walk. Far too often we are deceived regarding these enemies because we want to be deceived. The only antidote for that deception is a heart that loves the Lord and desires jealously to guard the treasured relationship with Christ that salvation has purchased and that our marauding enemies seek to destroy.
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