Our enemy, Satan, does not like it when we repent of sin. He wants to pull us back into sin as soon as he can, and he will use every weapon in his arsenal to that end. That is why we can never relax our vigilance once we have repented. Life happens day by day, and we have to be prepared for what comes our way.
The great Reformer Martin Luther famously categorized our spiritual enemies as “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”¹ These words may sound old-fashioned in the twenty-first century, but they represent spiritual realities that are just as active and dangerous as they have ever been. The “world” represents values that contradict the values of God. The “flesh” represents our sinful desires that continue to trouble us as Christians. And the Devil is our personal spiritual enemy, who employs schemes to entice us into doing wrong.
As we seek to break a sinful habit, we must use the resources of God to defend against spiritual attacks—the fourth of the five steps. We do this by overcoming the world, putting our flesh to death, and resisting the Devil’s schemes.
Overcoming the World
God made the world and declared it “excellent in every way” (Genesis 1:31). And even though our planetary home has been damaged by sin, we should not think of it as inherently evil. But the Bible uses the term “world” in another way, that is, to represent a system of values that is opposed to God.
We see this perspective, for example, in Jesus’s words to His disciples “I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you” (John 15:19). Similarly, the apostle John warned, “Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you. … For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world” (1 John 2:15-16). The “world,” in this sense, is the enemy of Christians.
We are constantly exposed to worldly messages about what is important, and these messages can make it hard to live in a way that is consistent with our repentance. If we do not guard our affections, we will begin to place them on unworthy objects. The world is full of tangible things that can attract us. And of course, one person may place great importance on one thing, while another is interested in something else entirely. But if whatever appeals to us gets in the way of spiritual matters, as measured by our obedience (or disobedience) to biblical commands, it is a danger to us.
An exchange of value systems is possible. We are promised, “Every child of God defeats this evil world by trusting Christ to give the victory” (1 John 5:4). This means we go to Christ again and again for help to understand what He wants us to do and then to do it. We build our lives on the solid rock of His teaching, not the shifting sands of worldly wants. In prayer, we ask the help of His Holy Spirit to purify our value system so that over time we come to desire what God desires.
The apostle Paul told the Romans, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2). If we have bought into the values of the world system, God can override worldly influences and supplant our unworthy values with His values. And as He does so, we become holy nonconformists.