If I were to ask you where does Jesus rank among your daily priorities, how would you respond? Would your first impulse be to give a “spiritual” answer—that is, to say what you think you’re supposed to say as a Christian—or would you reply with what you know in your heart to be true?
These questions aren’t in any way meant to be presumptive or accusatory. Not at all. The truth is none of us, including yours truly, consistently gives Christ the rightful place He deserves in our life. In fact, if we were honest, most of us would have to admit that we are so preoccupied with worldly attentions and concerns that thoughts of God rarely cross our minds—until we need Him (Matt. 15:8).
It was several years ago that a former pastor of mine said something that I remember to this day, and hope hereafter to call to mind, that the battlefield of Satan is the mind. I have since discovered in my own life how right he was—and still is.
It is through the mind that Satan attacks believers. Since the Garden of Eden his modus operandi—that we exchange the truth of God for a lie—has not changed nor wavered. And why should it since it has served him so well for so long? As Jonathan Edwards said, “The devil can counterfeit all the saving operations and graces of the Spirit of God.” Conversely, A.W. Pink said that, “Satan is not an initiator, but an imitator.”
It was on the battlefield of his mind that the apostle Paul, a man who, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God wrote nearly thirty percent of the New Testament, engaged in spiritual combat with the one who is the enemy of all believers in Christ. Paul acknowledged this struggle in Romans 7:21-25, where he confesses:
“I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
If we are to understand the conflict Paul is describing we must first understand that, biblically, the mind (nous) comprises our human faculties of perception and understanding, of consciously judging, determining, and discerning. In the above passage, Paul is contrasting the “mind” with the “flesh” in terms of the principle of evil which dominates us as fallen human beings.
The apostle Paul was a unique person in many respects. But he was not so uncommon with regard to his struggle with sin. The war Paul fought against sin and temptation was waged on the very same battlefield upon which you and I fight every moment of every day—our mind. It is against the backdrop of this ever-present reality that I am reminded of this encouraging yet sobering admonition by John MacArthur who, in The Gospel According to Paul, says:
“As believers, we wage continual war against sin, always seeking to mortify it, never to dance with it.”
The “mind” that Paul describes as “waging war” in his “inner man” speaks to his utter powerlessness and inability to obey God in and of himself. Martin Luther understood the utter futility of this kind of man-centered self-effort when, in On the Bondage of the Will, he wrote, “Let all the ‘free-will’ in the world do all it can with all its strength; it will never give rise to a single instance of ability to avoid being hardened if God does not give the Spirit, or of meriting mercy if it is left to its own strength.”
In a world of disparities and inequities, sin has a way of leveling the playing field for everyone (Rom. 3:23). Regardless our differences ethnically, culturally, or socio-economically, sin renders each of us equally helpless, defenseless, and impotent in the war against our flesh—leaving us all in desperate need of a power greater than ourselves as we contend against the sin nature that indwells us (Gal. 5:16-26).
It was the Puritan theologian Richard Sibbes who said:
“When we find our souls at all declining, it is best to raise them up presently by some awakening meditations, such as the presence of God, of the strict reckoning we are to make, of the infinite love of God in Christ and the fruits of it, of the excellency of a Christian’s calling, of the short and uncertain time of this life, of how little good all those things that steal away our hearts will do us before long, and of how it shall be forever with us hereafter, as we spend this short time well or ill. The more we make way for such considerations to sink into our hearts, the more we shall rise nearer to that state of soul which we shall enjoy in heaven.”
Sibbes’ counsel is wise and should be considered within the context of Paul’s exhortation in Phil. 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” To “dwell” on the things Paul mentions means that we, as believers, are to so “set our minds” on the things of God that we “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (Col. 3:2; 2 Cor. 10:5b).
As believers who are engaged daily in an ongoing battle for our mind there are only two choices to consider: either submit to the will of Christ who loves us or to the will of Satan who wants to destroy us. There is no third option. As Charles Spurgeon said:
“You cannot expect God to listen to you if you will not listen to him; and when you ask of God, you must not imagine that he will give to you what you ask of him if you do not give to him what he asks of you.”
May God grant each of us the grace to keep fighting the good fight as we, by His divine power, continue to engage our mortal enemy on the battlefield of our mind (1 Tim. 6:12).