Our Worst Enemy – SELF
By Stephen L France
I thought I would close this year with a look at self-deception and the need to walk by faith in order to witness the perfect job that God can do with our souls.
Some of this is material I’m repeating, but in journeying with God, the wisdom has become even more clearly applicable as His authority reigns in my life.
Perhaps one of the staples of my time examining Scripture, has been the moment India Mission team leaders Femi and Mona Lisa interviewed me in 2016.
They dropped a verse on me that would further clarify my perceptions on what it means to walk by faith.
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God and brining into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. [2 Corinthians 10:5]
This verse revealed something I hadn’t known before:
Spiritual warfare isn’t just a supernatural, invisible battle between angels and demons in the spirit world (Daniel 10: 12 – 13).
It’s combat in the mind where we have choices between following our Spirit, or Flesh [Romans 7 & 8].
We either submit to our Lord Jesus Christ, or, everything else the world offers.
Walk in light, or walk in darkness [1 John 1:5].
The renowned cartoon sketch of the angel and devil on the shoulders—whispering in opposite ears—truly came to life.
Our mind has two wills working; the will of the Spirit and the will of the flesh/enemy/world/SELF/ everything else.
The reason I deem SELF the worst enemy in my title for this blog, is because we have to authorise the enemy (the devil) to work in us.
The hugest self-deception in this authorisation, is we unwittingly make a pact with an evil entity who hates us and wants nothing more but to see us robbed, killed, and destroyed (John 10:10).
Of course, he will offer pleasurable, tangible gifts for our allegiance (Matthew 4:4-11) in the disguise of certain desires we have.
The desires that the devil uses to attract us fall under the spiritual bondage of sin.
There are three ways that the enemy/SELF attempts to reach us that I’ve both experienced and seen in Scripture:
1) The devil himself and his demons through spiritual attacks – these can be as quiet as whispers in our mind, telling us to act in a way we know to be against God’s wisdom e.g. retaliate to an insult with wrath. It may also be a whisper speaking into our value, telling us “we are worthless” and “no good.” Or, it can be as vicious and audacious as violent night terrors, paying a visit during our sleep
2) Through the world around us – this can range from seeing a lusty, provocative image on a billboard that distracts us; it can also be the distraction or deception of the opinions of other people e.g. an induvial saying: “you’re only into religion because you don’t have a life.” Even more subtle and unassuming, it might be someone giving you advice e.g. “you have to take care of yourself, look after yourself, put yourself first,” in response to your own assertion that life is about serving others
3) Our own flesh and conscience – this is particularly dangerous. The identity I created out of wounds from the past is not my friend. It’s actually self-defence, self-protection, spiritual contracts, promises, and vows I’ve formed to make sure I’m never hurt again, creating barriers against people and obstructing the full protection and healing offered by the Spirit
These three methods then divide into multiple, creative tactics that the enemy attempts to use to steal from us, kill us, and destroy us [John 10:10].
He is a truly hateful being, desiring the destruction of our identity, the theft of our purpose, and the decimation of our worth. All of this requires our SELF-ish agreement to make his desires a reality in our lives.
I’m always irked by the ‘kill and destroy,’ part of this verse in John. It’s not sufficient for us to be dead. He wants us absolutely devastated and tormented.
This is where SELF is the danger.
As soon as any of us have agreed to the devil’s opinions, SELF becomes the living, breathing enemy within; a voice in our head that can torment us in a multitude of deceptive ways.
Here are a few examples from my life:
· It can make me mistrust people/ suspicious of people
· It wants me to retain secrets about myself and others to keep me isolated
· It wants me to gossip and use that as crux for power over others
· It wants me to put on masks to pretend everything is okay
· It will even compel me to spew Godly language in my diction so that I look more ‘Christian’ to others
Essentially, SELF—the part of me filled with the enemy’s lies—wants to escort me to a place of utter isolation where I can be killed and destroyed.
Where are my decisions emerging from?
It is our prideful choices that make this SELF entity come to life as the enemy within, but just where are our decisions coming from?
There are several places to look to:
1) Jesus or ‘the rest’ – ‘the rest’ can be seemingly positive teachings like forgive because it will lighten your burden. But without Jesus, true forgiveness is impossible
2) Humility or pride
3) Love or fear
What I’ve found is the clarity of God’s wisdom can be difficult to apply when SELF still has a voice.
One of the challenging decisions I made early on in my Walk was regarding theft.
I was a proud serial thief—a kleptomaniac of sorts.
My great robbery was downloading films illegally.
Sometimes, I would acquire movies with no need or reason other than just to have them.
I had terabytes worth of films and TV sagas—many of which I hadn’t watched like a proud magpie hoarding my precious treasures.
I would boast of this collection in my mind, saying I’ve got one over on the world by accumulating all this free stuff.
The black and white of the situation was “theft is theft and we are not to steal.” [Mark 10:19, Exodus 20:15, Ephesians 4:28, Leviticus 19:11]
But our human minds are creative with vindication; I remember my reasoning well:
1) I’m not harming anyone really – the film companies have millions of dollars
2) Films are overpriced – I deserve this because the movies are too expensive
3) The film companies deserve to be robbed for being greedy with extortionate prices
4) When I would lose something costly, I would say in my mind, I’m still winning because I’ve downloaded all these free movies (and music)
The day arrived at the end of 2015 (my first year in Christ) when I had to erase all of these films.
There was no human reasoning. Just the truth. They had to go.
After a couple of months of deleting films one at a time, I deleted them all with ‘ctrl + a,’ then ‘delete.’
The enemy as we know is always looking for a way into our lives and the deception comes when we unwittingly agree to authorise him in through sin, even through seemingly harmless activity as downloading pirate films.
1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:”
Overall, I discovered that the most dominant ways I’ve allowed the devil into my life was through the abundance of effort invested in SELF-protection and my desperate need for my own SELF-ish desires to be fulfilled.
To the world, both seem harmless, but in the spiritual dimension, it’s different.
SELF-protection and SELF-ish desires are about egocentric fulfilment and if we review Scripture in its entirety—especially the book of Job and Jesus’ battle with the devil in Matthew—we can gain a strong perception of what the devil thinks of us and why he is able to attack us through these means
The devil thinks we are selfish, fearful beings and this is what he plays on. He can operate with any human move that's based in selfishness and any action founded in fear.
The most obvious way that comes to mind about how I managed self-protection was my passion for psychology—knowing people’s minds so I would know if they could be trusted and be able to defend my heart against any reprisals.
Self-protective thinking leads to:
1) Fantasy – imagining scenarios where everything works out to our specification
2) Pessimistic fantasy – predicating things aren’t going to work out and planning accordingly for the unpleasant result we believe is coming
These mental thought processes kick faith and all our Lord’s promises out the window, presenting the illusion of SELF-control while allowing fear, anxiety, and a host of other erosive thoughts and emotions to enter.
(1) SELF-ish Desires
Reviewing desires, this is a very deceptive area.
Desires can be good.
We know the Lord gave us our desires, but we also know that it pleases Him greatly when we live a life of self-sacrifice [Matthew 19:21].
My main desires have always been to have a family of my own and a successful career in writing that reaps financial prosperity.
I find myself seeing a great trial of refinement right here.
Can we surrender our greatest, deepest desires to experience further intimacy with the Lord our God? In essence, can we have faith over the tangible physical pleasures of the world?
I learned a very powerful lesson this year about surrender.
The lesson was simple.
Either I surrender all. Or I don’t. My choice.
We sing the words of surrender in church all the time, but do we actually surrender all?
I tried to cut a deal; a fair bargain with our Lord in December 2016.
I said to Him, “Lord, I have given you two years of my life so far and made massive changes by your grace. Let me have 2017 to build my career and finances so I can then move on to the next step and have a family.”
2017 has not gone as planned.
Far from it.
It has turned 180 degrees the other way. If I could add more degrees on 180 to express how much my year has gone in the opposite direction, I would.
I won’t go into the details of this transformation, but I learned something very clear.
Surrender is surrender.
It can’t be half way, attempting to mix my ways with the Lord’s. It’s His plan or whatever I want to do.
Now, I must be clear.
It’s not that the Lord doesn’t want me to have the aforementioned desires; it’s simply that He’s guiding this journey now, because I’ve opened that door to Him.
Desires--although natural--can be a blatant distraction.
When things don’t go our way to meet our ambitions, reactions can range from wrath to depression, from madness to suicide.
This is the hard lesson—surrendering control (or more accurately put, the illusion of control).
So, I find myself vigilant of both SELF-protection attempts on my part and my own SELF-ish desires (1 Peter 5:8).
They are pitfalls, taking us off the track of salvation and leading back into slavery to sin.
Personally, there is no complaining or upset.
No sadness or confusion.
Just a step of faith every day, not worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:33-34), but seeking after the Lord daily.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it. It’s been hard. But dying to SELF is not meant to be easy.
Closing 2017, my prayer for all who read this is: Let God transform us so that every word from our heart, mind, soul, and mouth be of the Word of God and the Word of God alone. Take away opinions that spring from a fallen, SELF-ish mindset in Jesus’ name and let us be filled up with the Holy Spirit so that all we think and speak about is for the glory of God and His Heavenly Kingdom. Amen