The Law, the World,
the Flesh and the Devil
For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom.
Such things are earthly, unspiritual, inspired by the devil.
For wherever there is jealousy or selfish ambition,
there will be disorder and every other kind of evil.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven
is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness.
Then it is peace-loving and courteous.
It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others;
it is full of mercy and good deeds.
It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere.
And those who are peacemakers will plant
seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.
(James 3:15-18 TLB)
Legalism is the belief system
of the world,
the flesh and the devil.
No Bible-believing Christian is confused about the existence of Satan. Many of us are, however, confused about worldliness and the flesh. Legalism is the belief system of all three—the world, the flesh and the devil.
When Christians speak of other Christians as being worldly, we usually mean they are unspiritual or superficial. Depending on our personal theology, the term worldly could apply to someone who wears makeup or a lot of jewelry. A person who reads the newspapers could seem worldly to another. Worldliness is associated with any activity outside the realm of our church and its particular set of doctrines.
In the Greek, the word "world" means planet earth and its inhabitants. John 3:16 speaks of the world in this context.
"For God so loved the world [its inhabitants], that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Jesus also used the term "the world" in another context. He referred to legalists, the scribes and Pharisees of His day, as being of "the world".
"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life. The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me . . . And he said unto them [the Pharisee's], Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:12-18, 23).
"If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They [the scribes and Pharisees] hated me without a cause" (John 15:18-25).
Jesus referred to the Pharisees
as "the world".
The Pharisees are identified as "the world" in both passages by Jesus saying, "It is written in your law" (John 8:17), or "it is written in their law" (John 15:25).
Legalism blames everything evil and bad on the world, the flesh and the devil. We are right that worldliness is the problem. We are wrong for pointing our fingers anywhere except at ourselves.
Overcoming the World
Faith overcomes the world (I John 5:4). Faith comes not by the will of the flesh, nor the will of man but by the will of God (John 1:13, Ephesians 2:8, Romans 10:17).
"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
"Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God
and acceptance by God
O. J. Mahaney
Flesh refers to 1) the human body, 2) mankind in general, 3) body, soul and spirit, 4) the lower part of our nature, 5) the unregenerate condition of the lost and 6) the external and superficial rather than the internal and real. It is also a synonym for carnality. The flesh is focused on externals. Legalism is focused on externals. To walk in the flesh is to be legalistic. Legalism and flesh always look for shortcuts to God's highest goals for us.
"Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid [slave], the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman [slave] was born after the flesh: but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants: the one from the mount Sinai [the law], which gendereth to bondage [slavery] which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai [the law] in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage [slavery] with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all" (Galatians 4:21-26 Brackets mine).
In the same passage of Scripture where Jesus tells the Pharisees [legalists] they are of the world (John 8:12-23), he rebukes them for judging in the flesh. "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man" (John 8:15 Brackets mine).
Legalism is fleshly. It tries to control outward behavior—the behaviour of the flesh. It has no power to transform the inner man. Hebrews 7:16 and 9:8-10 call the law carnal (fleshly).
Our legalism wants others to look good so we will look good.
"As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised [to keep the law]; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh" (Galatians 6:12-13 Brackets mine).
Overcoming the Flesh
Galatians 5:16 says if we walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Likewise, if we are led by the Spirit, we will not be under law (Gala- tians 5:18). The letter of the law brings a glory that fades away (2 Corinthians 3). The Spirit of the Law brings an ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3).
"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (v. 17-18).
Walking in the Spirit of God
overcomes the flesh.
Legalism is the belief system of Satan. Jesus told the Pharisees, the arbiters of the law, the proverbial legalists, that they were of their father the devil (Jn. 8:44). He also referred to them as serpents, a brood of vipers (Matthew 23:33), a reference to Satan, the serpent and devil (Revelation 12:9, 20:2).
In my early walk with the Lord I focused a lot of my attention on Satan. For a long time I have believed this borders on superstition. I have found proof that it certainly can be superstition. Religion and superstition are synonymous in the Greek. Interestingly, both of these words are from the same two root words. One means fear. The other means the devil. Legalism is religious. It is superstitious. It produces fear of the devil.
Psalm 119:91 says all things are God's servants (NAS). All means all. No exceptions. Satan included. Too many of us give Satan more credit than he deserves. He is not sovereign. God is. I see nowhere in scripture where Satan was ever allowed to touch any child of God except:
Too many of us give Satan
than he deserves.
1) by God's permission; and even then he could do no more than God allowed.
"And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand" (Job 1:12).
"And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life" (Job 2:6).
"And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31).
"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Corinthians 12:7).
"And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil . . . And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee . . . " (Luke 4:1-2, 13-14).
There is no better example of Satan's eternally losing hand than the scripture above. The devil did not lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. The Holy Spirit led him there. Satan threw his greatest temptations Jesus's way without success. What was the result? Jesus came out of the wilderness full of the power of the Spirit.
2) because of sin
"All that found them have devoured them: and their adversaries said, We offend not, because they have sinned against the Lord, the habitation of justice, even the Lord, the hope of their fathers" (Jeremiah 50:7).
The letter of the law makes sin alive. Sin gives Satan access to our lives.
" . . . without the law, sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Romans 7:8-9).
It is important
to be aware of the devil.
It is more important
to focus of God.
3) lack of vigilance
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
It is important to be aware of the devil. It is more important to focus on God.
" . . . greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).
4) lack of submission to God and resistance to the devil
"Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
Unfortunately, too many of us are resisting God believing we are resisting the devil. This is how I pray. "Lord, I don't want to miss you. I surrender to whatever you want to do in my life, however you want to do it, even when I don't understand." I then address Satan. "Satan, I resist you in the mighty name of Jesus. The Lord can do whatever he desires. I am as surrendered as I know how to be to His will for my life. You can do whatever the Lord has given you permission to do and nothing more."
5) for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved.
"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, when you are assembled and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (I Corinthians 5:4-5 NAS).
One of God's greatest purposes
for His servant Satan
is the destruction of our flesh.
This is one of God's greatest purposes for His servant, Satan. To destroy our flesh . . . to break down our legalism. When we resist the destruction of our flesh in the consuming fires of God, we put a bull's eye on ourselves for the attacks of the enemy. One way or another, the Lord will transform us into His image from glory to glory.
Satan—A Defeated Foe
The most important thing I know about Satan is he was defeated on Calvary. It is only God or sin who gives him power in my life.
"Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:14-15).
I believe the devil hates God and His children because there is nothing he can do to win. No matter what Satan does, no matter what we do to ourselves, God always works it for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). 2 Corinthians 2:14 says the Lord always causes us to triumph in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God . . . not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or the sword. "In all of these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Neither death nor life, angels, principalities, things present or things to come. No height, no depth, no created thing will ever be able to separate us from the love of our Father through Jesus His Son" (Romans 8:35-39).
Satan's only weapon against us the handwriting of ordinances against us. Jesus destroyed them on the cross.
The good news is that Christ died for our sins. In doing so, he spoiled Satan and all the powers of hell. He blotted out the obligation of the letter of the law that was against us. Satan's only weapon, the handwriting of ordinances, was destroyed. The rest of the good news is that God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose Romans 8:28). No matter how great the tragedy, God will use it for His glory. Satan can never win! What he means for evil, God means for good (Genesis 50:20).
Am I advocating passivity? Scripture admonishes us that we are not to be ignorant of the schemes of the devil, otherwise he will take advantage of us
(2 Corinthians 2:11). Instead of ignoring him, James 4:7 tells us to submit to the will of God and resist the devil and he will flee from us. If we are not surrendering to the will of God, we can resist Satan until the end of time. He will not cease to buffet us. When we do submit to God and Satan continues to buffet us, we know two things. One, we are to remain submitted to God and continue to resist the devil. Two, if the devil does not flee, God is most assuredly working on something in our lives. In this case He is more than likely working on something of which we are unaware (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Legalism makes us blame. We either blame Satan, ourselves or someone else for everything bad that happens. Sometimes we blame God. The blame game keeps our hearts off of the real issue . . . submitting to God and what He wants to do in our own hearts regardless of the source of our problems.
Whether we obey through love
or by the letter of the law,
obedience is only part of the equation
in our sanctification.
God's Grace and mercy
make it all possible.
When we are in bondage to the law, we strive to be as obedient as possible. Of course, perfect obedience of body, soul and spirit, mind, will and emotions is impossible. Under the covenant of love we trust in the imputed righteousness of Christ and strive to be as obedient as possible, knowing that God's Holy Spirit is ever present to convict us of sin, God's mercy is ever present to forgive us of sin, and God's grace is ever present to transform us to the image of His Son. Whether we obey through love or through the letter of the law, obedience is only part of the equation in our sanctification. God's grace and mercy make it all possible.
God said Job was the most perfect and upright man in the entire earth. Yet he went through great trials, which brought him out of the law of sacrifice into grace.
According to Job's own testimony, he knew God by what He had heard about
Him. After his many trials, in his own words, "now mine eyes have seen thee".
"I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).
In the past year, I have been through many fiery trials. The flesh dies a slow death. In spite of my beliefs on legalism, I fell into questioning the Lord. "Lord, you have done so much in my life. I have been through many fires. What you are doing right now feels like fine tuning that no one will ever notice." Quietly in my heart, I heard the Lord lovingly say, "I will notice." This is the subtle nature of legalism. We think because we are good we don't need to be tested and tried. Not so. God is more interested in our character than He is in our outward behavior. The fires of trials and testings shape our character.
The Lord followed up with one more word for me. He said, "Anne, your eye hath not seen, nor your ear heard, neither have entered into your heart, the things I have prepared for you."
An immature believer hears these words and sees a new car, the bills paid or physical healing. I am sure it includes some of these things for us in His time. What I heard Him say to me that day was, "You do not have the full picture of Me. Because of this, you do not have one idea what you will be like when I am REALLY finished with you. You have so much further to go than you know". His promises are not as much for what He will do FOR us as what He will do IN us. The latter is His priority.
Legalism gives the illusion of control. We are not in control. Satan is not in control. God is in control and His plans for us are for good and not for evil. His plans for us are for a future and a hope.
Legalism gives the illusion
We are not in control.
Satan is not in control.
God is in control.
The only difference between believers and non-believers is the cross. Regard- less of how obedient and loved we are or are not in our own eyes, the Lord is always working to transform us into the image of His Son. And He is a consum- ing fire! In his sovereignty, whatever the source, the fires in our lives are there to purify and perfect us.
Overcoming the Devil
There is no power in the letter of the law except to enslave us. Going into spiritual warfare under the letter of the law is a little like David going out to fight Goliath in Saul's armor. Saul is a type of the law. David would have been defeated in the blink of an eye had he done so. We all walk in Saul's armor some of the time. Some of us walk in it most of the time. In Saul's armor, we are like Don Quixote. Believing we are waging great battles, we are actually jousting with windmills.
We overcome the devil
by the blood of the Lamb,
the word of our testimony
and loving our lives not unto death.
The power is in the cross of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18). We overcome the devil by the blood of the Lamb, the word of our testimony and by loving not our lives unto death (Revelations 12:11). The blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony come easily for most Christians. Resistance sets in when it comes to loving not our lives unto death. Instead of submitting to God and resisting the devil, we unwittingly submit to the devil by resisting our death to self on the cross.
We long for the glory of God until the refining fires begin to burn up the wood, hay and stubble of our lives. It takes faith to entrust ourselves to the consum- ing fires of God. It takes faith to know when He tries us, we will come forth as gold. It takes faith to know that even in the darkness He is a light for us.
Lord Jesus, refine me. Teach me. Lead me. Convict me. Protect me. Strengthen me. Help me. Comfort me. Reveal the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus to me and set me free from the law of sin and death. In Your Name I pray. Amen.
The World, The Flesh and the Devil (c) by Anne Murchison 1999