We continue to learn from the analogy of the football team in Zamunda that decided to set up a new standard of scoring goals just because they had repeatedly failed to correctly score. As stated in the first part of this article, this “favorite team” of Zamunda met with tough opponents, against whom they could not score even a single goal. In the second part of the article we covered some aspects of the necessary training required to successfully contend with the opponents and score goals. In this last part of the article, we discuss who these opponents are.
In any professional football match, a team always plays against opponents to score points. Similarly, in the game of life, we must know who our opponents are. A careful search for these opponents in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy reveals a pattern of three words: the world, the flesh (or self), and the devil. For instance, 1 Peter 5:8 says the devil is our adversary; 1 John 2:15 and James 4:4 tell us not to love or befriend the world; and Romans 13:14, Galatians 5:24, and Luke 9:23 all refer to the need for self-denial, putting on Christ and crucifying the flesh and its lusts. Similarly, in the Testimonies, more than ninety statements appear with these three words mentioned in the exact same order. For instance, The Upward Look, p. 217 states: “To follow Christ is not freedom from conflict. It is not child’s play. It is not spiritual idleness. All the enjoyment in Christ’s service means sacred obligations in meeting oft stern conflicts. To follow Christ means stern battles, active labor, warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our enjoyment is the victories gained for Christ in earnest, hard warfare. Think of this.” Furthermore, Testimonies to Ministers and Bible Workers, p. 445 also states that “Those that overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, will be the favored ones who shall receive the seal of the living God;” and Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 250 adds that “Prayer brings Jesus to our side, and gives to the fainting, perplexed soul new strength to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. Prayer turns aside the attacks of Satan” (emphasis mine). Let us consider the first opponent.
What exactly is the world that we must overcome? The Bible and Spirit of Prophecy give many hints as to what this is. Generally, this is understood to mean all the attractions of sin that are found in the world, e.g., parties of pleasure, sports, entertainment, fashions, etc. While this is true, we must not end there. In James 4:4 the Bible warns against forming friendships with the world because such a friendship creates enmity with God. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the Bible tells us that Satan is the god of this world; in other words, his principles run supreme in the minds of men and all activities not inspired by God. Furthermore, we learn that it was when Eve adopted Satan’s thinking, that she perceived disobedience to God’s commands as a good thing, and thus became an enemy of God (See Genesis 3:1–5). This is why the Bible in Colossians 1:21 states that we became enemies of God in our minds; because we adopted Satan’s way of thinking. Thus, fighting against the world not only means avoiding the world’s pleasures and attractions but also any principles that do not come from God’s word.
We are to avoid any activity or association that is not approved by God’s principles. In Early Writings p. 15, during her first vision, Ellen White looked for the Advent people in the world, but she could not see them; and then her angel told her to look again and look a little higher. At this point she was able to see them travelling “on a narrow path cast high above the world”. In Testimonies for the church, vol. 1, p. 361, we are given a practical application of what it means to travel on that narrow path cast high above the world: “Worldly men are governed by worldly principles. They can appreciate no other. Worldly policy and public opinion comprise the principle of action that governs them and leads them to practice the form of rightdoing. But God’s people cannot be governed by these motives. The words and commands of God, written in the soul, are spirit and life, and there is power in them to bring into subjection and enforce obedience.” We must, therefore, constantly resist thinking and behaving like wordlings, especially nowadays when it seems shameful to be a strict Christian.
The Flesh (or Self)
Many texts in the Bible emphasize the need to deny self, for instance Luke 9:23 and Matthew 16:24. Why? Because “Self is the ground where Satan always meets and manages those whom he wishes to deceive and conquer.”–Our High Calling, p. 126. When Satan rebelled against God’s government, the premises of his arguments were that God should allow the angels to do as they pleased. He “claimed that angels needed no law but should be left free to follow their own will, which would ever guide them right; that law was a restriction of their liberty; and that to abolish law was one great object of his standing as he did.” –The Story of Redemption, p. 18
While God’s law is based on love and consideration of the needs of others, Satan’s idea of a perfect world is one where each one lives as they please. In God’s kingdom, love is the motive of every action, while in Satan’s kingdom, only self and one’s fleshly lusts need be consulted for any action. Considering this, God has made it evidently clear that anyone who seeks to overcome sin (transgression of God’s law) must first learn self-abnegation. Failure to do this, self will always stand in the way of obedience because, instead of considering God’s requirements and the needs of others, one would first consider self. For this reason, in Satan’s kingdom, there is no such thing as love, because everyone does as they please—without regard to anyone or anything else.
The broad way spoken of in Matthew 7:13–14 is such because there are no restrictions—travelers there do as they please—whereas the narrow way is narrow because people travelling there do not live as they please but each one lives in accordance with prescribed law and order, which is meant to safeguard the interests and goodness of every traveler. The narrowness of the way is defined by fixed boundaries of God’s law. So, if you find yourself living as you please, yet you claim to be a Christian, which way are you travelling on? The Bible tells us that “the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead: And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” 2 Corinthians 5:14–15
In the days when Israel had no King, everyone did as they pleased: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Judges 17:6. This tells us that if we live as we please, without regard to God’s requirements, we have not yet made Jesus the Lord of our lives. But the Bible teaches us that Jesus is not only our Saviour, but LORD as well; that means, as King, we live according to His will, not ours (See 2 Peter 1:11). Sadly, this is not the case for many professed Christians.
At creation, God made man to be like Himself in nature—loving, kind, patient, and all the qualities that Paul describes in Galatians 5:22. However, when man adopted Satan’s mind of selfishness, every other evil followed, for “Selfishness is the root of all evil.” –Evangelism, p. 633. Imagine that you are a group of ten people in a room and someone brings you a plate with ten succulent and delicious apples in it. However, one of the apples has a rotten spot and you are given the opportunity to pick; which one would you pick? Whose mind would you be acting out when you select the apple—Jesus’ or Satan’s mind? Recall that Satan’s principle is: self-first, whereas Jesus’ is: others first. Certainly, you know that if you don’t pick the rotten one, one of your brethren will have to pick it!
Self-seeking, self-sufficiency, and selfish gratification lead to pride. Pride is what makes many to not receive correction and reform their lives. “There have ever been two classes among those who profess to be followers of Christ. While one class study the Saviour’s life and earnestly seek to correct their defects and conform to the Pattern, the other class shun the plain, practical truths which expose their errors.” –The Great Controversy, p. 43. In a Review and Herald article dated September 16, 1873, Sister White said, “I am very sure that the greatest reason why the people of God are now found in this state of spiritual blindness, is because they will not receive correction. Many have despised the reproofs and warnings given them.”
“Christ can do nothing for the recovery of man until, convinced of his own weakness and stripped of all self-sufficiency and pride, he puts himself under the control of God. Then and then only can he be a true subject of God. No confidence can be placed in human greatness, human intellect, or human plans. We must place ourselves under the guidance of an infinite mind, acknowledging that without Jesus we can do nothing.” –The Review and Herald, August 18, 1896
“There can be no growth or fruitfulness in the life that is centered in self. If you have accepted Christ as a personal Saviour, you are to forget yourself, and try to help others. Talk of the love of Christ, tell of His goodness. Do every duty that presents itself. Carry the burden of souls upon your heart, and by every means in your power seek to save the lost. As you receive the Spirit of Christ—the Spirit of unselfish love and labor for others—you will grow and bring forth fruit. The graces of the Spirit will ripen in your character. Your faith will increase, your convictions deepen, your love be made perfect. More and more you will reflect the likeness of Christ in all that is pure, noble, and lovely.” –Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 67–68
“Strength of character consists of two things,—power of will, and power of self-control. Many youth mistake strong, uncontrolled passion for strength of character; but the truth is that he who is mastered by his passions is a weak man. The real greatness and nobility of the man is measured by his power to subdue his feelings, not by the power of his feelings to subdue him. The strongest man is he, who, while sensitive to abuse, will yet restrain passion and forgive his enemies.”—Messages to Young People, p. 412
In 1 Peter 1:22, the Bible tells us that we purify our souls by obeying the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren. We can only do this if we adhere to the admonition: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14) and to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily and follow the Lord (Luke 9:23).
“We are not to make crosses for ourselves, by wearing sackcloth, by pinching our bodies, or by denying ourselves wholesome, nourishing food. We are not to shut ourselves in monasteries, away from the world, and do no good to our fellow beings, thinking this is the cross of Christ; neither are we required to expose health and life unnecessarily, nor to go mourning up the hill of Christian life, feeling it a sin to be cheerful, contented, happy, and joyful. These are all self-made crosses, but not the cross of Christ.
“To bear the cross of Christ is to control our sinful passions, to practice Christian courtesy even when it is inconvenient to do so, to see the wants of the needy and distressed and deny ourselves in order to relieve them, and to open our hearts and our doors to the homeless orphan, although to do this may tax our means and our patience.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 626–627
In the Garden of Eden, Satan used the most attractive and beautiful animal—the serpent, to deceive Eve. Do we suppose that he would work in a different manner today? No; not at all. Therefore, many people fail to see Satan as their opponent because they expect him to come as a hideous monster that is terrible in appearance and terrifying in nature (see Manuscript 9a, 1908 or Christ Triumphant, p. 197). This is where many are wrong, and that is why Satan loves such representations of himself, because when he comes as an angel of light, as a pastor, a beautiful girl, as a father, mother or brother in church, many are not aware that it is him. Satan can never come to us in a manner that would be unattractive to us and that is why, in the listing of our opponents against whom we contend, he is listed last because he mostly uses the first two—the world and the flesh.
In 2 Corinthians 2:11 the Bible tells us that Satan gains advantage over us when we are ignorant of his devices (his manner of working). In John 10:4–5, 27, Jesus says that His sheep know His voice and follow Him, but they would not listen to the voice of a stranger or follow a stranger. Do we recognize whose voice it is that speaks when people tell us things to do or to think about? When Peter rebuked Jesus not to go to Jerusalem because there He would be killed, Jesus rebuked him instead and said, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Matthew 16:21–23. Jesus recognized that Peter’s words (though perhaps spoken in innocence and misguided affection) were a direct instigation of Satan’s mind. Today we may not directly refer to our children, wives, relatives, friends, church members, or even pastors, as Satan, but do we recognize whose voice they echo when they offer words of “advice” to us or tell us to do certain things that are contrary to the written word of God? The Desire of Ages, p. 459 says, “we must bring every man’s teaching to the test of Scripture.” “Here is the test of every man’s profession. We cannot accord holiness to any man without bringing him to the measurement of God’s only standard of holiness in heaven and in earth. If men feel no weight of the moral law, if they belittle and make light of God’s precepts, if they break one of the least of these commandments, and teach men so, they shall be of no esteem in the sight of Heaven, and we may know that their claims are without foundation.” –The Great Controversy, p. 472
Recall that Eve appeared to express much love for Adam after eating from the forbidden tree (see Story of Redemption, p. 36); do not be misled by the supposed love for you by anyone who seeks to lead you away from Christ. To score in the game of life, one must be able to distinguish between the voice of Christ and the voice of Satan from those we come in contact with. If one sincerely studies the Bible to know the truth, this won’t be difficult, for Christ has said that “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself.” John 7:17
Considering the analogy of the game of football, we notice that footballers play in teams. Goals are scored individually but through the consented effort of the entire team. Teams with selfish players rarely win. Similarly, “None—no, not one—can go alone to heaven. God has a people whom He is leading, guiding, and instructing. They must be subject one to another. If one undertakes to go alone, independently, to heaven he will find he has chosen the . . . path that will not lead him to life.” –The Upward Look, p. 300. Hence, the Bible tells us to not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25. You cannot perfect your Christian character by staying away from the social meetings of the church (except such meetings as are an offence to God) or by seeking to work independent of other members of Christ’s body. In a team, a player can score or assist another in scoring. We gain stars in our crowns, by not only preaching the gospel ourselves but by also assisting others in their missionary efforts; for instance, by making our money the invisible evangelist.
The entire chapter of John 17 is about Christ’s prayer for the unity of His church—unity in truth, not in error. This unity can only be achieved when members possess the mind of Christ and care for each other as Christ cares for them (Philippians 2:1–5), and build, rather than tear each other apart. Quite often, many church members take pleasure in discussing the faults of others—a habit that is detrimental to their own characters. As it is written: “The very act of looking for evil in others develops evil in those who look. By dwelling upon the faults of others, we are changed into the same image. But by beholding Jesus, talking of His love and perfection of character, we become changed into His image.” –Gospel Workers, p. 479. “A knowledge of the faults of Christians will be only a cause of stumbling to the unbelieving world; and by dwelling upon these things, we ourselves can receive only harm; for it is by beholding that we become changed. While we seek to correct the errors of a brother, the Spirit of Christ will lead us to shield him, as far as possible, from the criticism of even his own brethren, and how much more from the censure of the unbelieving world. We ourselves are erring, and need Christ’s pity and forgiveness, and just as we wish Him to deal with us, He bids us deal with one another.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 441
In our day, many Christians, like the inhabitants of Zamunda, trust to uncertainty. They think, and have made themselves believe, that it does not matter what they do with their lives; “God looks at the heart”, they say, and this phrase is used to mean that God does not care much about what they eat, dress, worship, who they associate with, what professional job they take, and how they conduct themselves before others, etc. They think that God will side with them because, owing to His merciful character and their frail human nature, it is acceptable to do some percentage of righteousness, but not everything God says. Clearly, every sane and sincere Christian should stop and ask: doesn’t God have a standard? Good question! “What stronger delusion can beguile the mind than the pretense that you are building on the right foundation and that God accepts your works, when in reality you are working out many things according to worldly policy and are sinning against Jehovah? Oh, it is a great deception, a fascinating delusion, that takes possession of minds when men who have once known the truth, mistake the form of godliness for the spirit and power thereof; when they suppose that they are rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing, while in reality they are in need of everything.” –Testimonies for Church, vol. 8, p. 249. Interestingly, we read of one Lawyer who came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus’ response to him was, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” Luke 10:25–26. Recall that in the story of Zamunda and its deluded football fans, on the day when judgment was passed with regard to whether the “favourite team” deserved points, the judge from the football authority held out a little book containing the football regulations in Zamunda and asked the “favourite team” and its supporters which part of the book they had read to arrive at their new position. Similarly, the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy tells us of such a day when every human shall stand before God and His Law. Sister White writes of that day thus:
“Today Christ is looking with sadness upon those whose characters He must at last refuse to acknowledge. Inflated with self-sufficiency, they hope that it will be well with their souls. But at the last great day, the mirror of detection reveals to them the evil that their hearts have practiced, and shows them at the same time the impossibility of reform. Every effort was made to bring them to repentance. But they refused to humble their hearts. Now the bitter lamentation is heard, ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved’ (cf. Jeremiah 8:20).” –The Upward Look, p. 301
“The glory of the celestial city streams from the gates ajar. Then there appears against the sky a hand holding two tables of stone folded together. Says the prophet: ‘The heavens shall declare His righteousness: for God is judge Himself.’ Psalm 50:6. That holy law, God’s righteousness, that amid thunder and flame was proclaimed from Sinai as the guide of life, is now revealed to men as the rule of judgment. The hand opens the tables, and there are seen the precepts of the Decalogue, traced as with a pen of fire. The words are so plain that all can read them. Memory is aroused, the darkness of superstition and heresy is swept from every mind, and God’s ten words, brief, comprehensive, and authoritative, are presented to the view of all the inhabitants of the earth.
“It is impossible to describe the horror and despair of those who have trampled upon God’s holy requirements. The Lord gave them His law; they might have compared their characters with it and learned their defects while there was yet opportunity for repentance and reform; but in order to secure the favor of the world, they set aside its precepts and taught others to transgress.” –The Great Controversy, p. 639
May Christians today are deluded and think that God is too merciful to be very strict with His law. As a result, they have adopted standards of Christian practice that meet their defects of character in many things, such as how they worship, what they eat, what jobs they take, how they dress, how they preach, sing, etc. For many, like the inhabitants of Zamunda, Christianity has been brought down to relative perfection rather than absolute perfection which is based on the revealed will of God. In fact, many believe it is impossible to have perfect characters; however, the Bible makes God’s standard very clear and all who are seeking salvation will follow all the truth revealed to them.
Many are unaware that Satan is playing the game of life with their souls and that by them excusing their defects of character, they are letting Satan score goals against them since he succeeds in making them like himself—rebels against God’s government and law. To the contrary, the Christian’s goal is to be like Christ—perfectly obedient to God’s law. Achieving this requires physical and mental discipline, and spiritual insight that makes one capable of discerning the various ways in which Satan attacks. In this article we covered some dimensions of the role of temperance, social life, Christian service, willpower, and music and bible study, in the Christian’s training and self-discipline to achieve character perfection. We also covered the three main opponents that we must contend with; these being the world, the flesh, and the devil. One cannot attempt to write a practical guide to holiness without rewriting the entire Bible itself and the testimonies of God’s spirit given through Sister White. I, therefore, can do nothing but “commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” Acts 20:32
Mukelabai Mukelabai, Sweden