The last enemy to be destroyed is death(1 Corinthians 15:26 ESV)
God’s three primary enemies are sin, Satan, and death. These three enemies oppose God’s plans and purposes for His creation, often working through human beings. However, besides these “big three,” there are two subordinate enemies who have not ceased to ruin God’s purposes in our lives. They are the flesh and religion.
We must pay particular attention to these two subtle enemies for several reasons. First, since they are ‘noiseless,’ they can cause damage without being noticed. Second, they are more challenging to identify and combat because they are not external enemies. It is easier to fight an enemy we can recognize outside of us. But when that enemy is within us or is us, then our problems are compounded.
The flesh is the first of these powerful enemies. As used in this context, the flesh means you and me—our human nature, heart, and body. Therefore the flesh is what you want, how you think, what you believe, how you feel, etc. If a pastor does not believe in miracles, God Himself will not bypass that posture of his mind. No one in that pastor’s congregation will ever experience a miracle. That is how powerful we are in spiritual matters. So Satan does not need to oppose God to His face; he only needs to make us take a stand that opposes God in any area of our lives. Paul said this about the flesh :
“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.” (Galatians 5:17 ESV)
God’s prime enemy in our lives is us—our flesh. But the manifestations of the flesh are not restricted to sinful behaviors. In fact, carnality is not always sin. A significant aspect of carnality that continues to erode God’s purposes is our own way of thinking or doing things. For example, when we trust in our abilities or resist coming out of our comfort zones, we surround ourselves with an impenetrable barrier of the flesh.
Like the flesh, religion is a secret weapon of mass destruction amongst God’s people. It is an intercontinental ballistic missile that destroys the move of the Spirit in His Body worldwide. No, I am not talking about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.! I mean “Christian religion,” legalism, or the religious spirit amongst us. You will be greatly mistaken if you hastily assume you are entirely free from the religious spirit. This spirit is as close to us as our bodies are close to our bones. It is not a matter of whether you are religious but whether you limit its manifestations in your life and bring its negative influences under control.
A summary of what the religious spirit will suffice here. You can read more about this here. I will use the case of Israel. When God gave Israel the Law, Israel embraced that law, made a religion out of it, took control of it, kicked God out, and ran the whole thing as they wanted. This reached its apex when God Himself came to them, and they could not even recognize Him in Jesus.
It is easy for us to embrace Christianity and take control of it while the Head of the Church(Jesus) has to take permission to do what He wants. I heard my Pastor, Ps Dave Olson, share a heart-wrenching story of a pastor who was against the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in “his church.” But God repeatedly gave him dreams in which He would graciously speak to this pastor and say (paraphrased), “Hey, I am the Holy Spirit, and I want to come into your Church.” So the Holy Spirit was not able to do with His own Church what He wanted because His people had created a religious system that kept Him out. If you think his pastor is alone, just remember the similar struggles He also has with you!
But there is hope. However, God cannot eradicate the flesh because that would mean killing us! He crucified the flesh spiritually in Jesus, and He wants us to mortify it by yielding to the Holy Spirit. One of these days, when Jesus returns, our bodies will be transformed into His glorious bodies, and we will never again in all eternity have to struggle with the flesh. But until then, our only hope is to humble ourselves and yield to His Spirit daily.
What is your experience struggling with these two enemies?
Apply the Word
It is troubling to know that we can become God’s primary adversaries without realizing it. We need Him daily to deliver us from ourselves. Since I understood how I often resisted God unknowingly, I regularly pray and beg the Father to help me not harden myself against Him. May the Lord help you too.
Ask the Father to help you overcome the flesh and religion every day by His Spirit.