It’s not a joke, you know. As we make our way through this life, we face some powerful enemies. In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul describes the pre-Christian past of the people in this church. As he does that, he tells them that three powerful forces were arrayed against them: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
These people had a deep inclination toward evil that came from their inmost parts (“the passions of our flesh”), they faced a powerful opponent from outside themselves (“the prince of the power of the air”), and all the while their whole environment was opposed to them (“this world”). They were outside of fellowship with God and, therefore, were “children of wrath.”
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
For some time now, and especially since I read Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, I have been pondering the way these forces were, and in some ways still are, opposed to me. Though through faith in Jesus Christ I have been delivered from the dominion of these forces, I have not yet been fully and finally delivered from their influence. Each of them continues to oppose me, and at times—too many times—I succumb, choosing sin in place of holiness. No wonder then, that the Anglican Book of Common Prayer leads Christians in this prayer: “From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Good Lord deliver us.”
I have a theory about these three influences and the way different Christians understand them. There are many theological tribes within Christianity and I believe that each of them has an imperfect balance in their understanding of the way these forces operate against us. Let me give just three examples. Each example is imperfect, of course, but I believe there is a thread of truth in each.
Fundamentalists tend to have a deep suspicion of the world—a world that is full of sin and adamantly opposed to God and his purposes. In my experience, Fundamentalists are quick to look to the world and to hold the world responsible for sin and the temptation to sin; hence, they battle hard against worldliness and look to worldly pleasures and entertainments with deep and lasting suspicion. If Fundamentalists are out of balance, it is toward the evil influence of the world and away from the influence of the flesh and the devil.