22 Sep Quarter Three Lesson Three
Overcoming the World, the Flesh and the Devil
We are studying through this third quarter on the topic of overcoming. We established the subject from this passage of Scripture:
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 1 John 2:12-14 (ESV)
The “little children” grow into “young men” who are then characterized by becoming strong and “overcoming the evil one” as the Word of God lives in them.
True growth in godliness is to see that we are increasingly overcoming temptation and the work of the devil in our lives, though we still stumble in many ways.
Question 1. What sin struggle do you currently have, or what weakness do you see yourself as desiring to overcome as you study through these lessons?
We all have sin struggles we want to overcome, and the method we employ to overcome them is extremely important. The choices are plentiful and varied.
From the 1600’s to the 1800’s the puritans were prolific in their output of the Word of God. Much of it was good and gospel focused, but some of it showed a popular trend of introspection, of excessive self-examination, and of resolution to overcome each individual sin. While their desire was good and right, sometimes their methods were not according to gospel truth. Jonathan Edwards was one such puritan writer who in his early days was “resolved” to overcome each sin in his life. He wrote his list of sins that he would focus on and overcome, one by one. Many people have lauded his efforts and prescribed his method as one to be followed.
Later, in the 1900’s the “addiction/recovery” movement was in full swing. Groups began meeting to focus on one area of sin (“addiction”) and the groups provided “support” for when the individual was not successful. In short order, “addiction/recovery” style Christian support groups emerged wanting to help people overcome specific sin struggles.
And still today, Bible studies are written specifically to address “how to lose weight”, or “how to overcome sexual impurity” or “how to get free from alcohol”, etc. While the desire was well intentioned sometimes the methods employed were not according to gospel truth.
Indeed, all of these approaches have a similar fatal flaw: they start with the problem, focus on the problem, identify people according to the problem, segregate people according to the problem, and, in the case of Christians, merely add Christ in as the solution.
Friend, this is not the biblical method of overcoming sin. We cannot attempt to fix one problem at a time, or to pluck an individual sin out of the life and then move on to the next sin. And why is this? Why can’t we just focus on one problem at a time and point people to Jesus to fix that sin? Notice this passage of Scripture:
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:18-20 (ESV)
Question 2. According to Matthew 15:18-20 where does all sin come from, and what do these sins do to us?
All sin comes from the heart, and sin defiles us. One time I watched a man put a few drops of black ink into a clear bowl of water, and that black ink began to defile the water and change its entire color. The water went from being clear and bright to being dark and murky.
Do you think it would be possible reach your hand into that water and try to pick out the individual drops of ink that were placed into it? Of course not, the ink had worked its way all through the water; it had permeated every part of it.
Similarly, we are born in sin and grow up practicing sin. This sin defiles our hearts and works its way through every part of us. Sin is literally in our D.N.A. The whole heart is defiled and in need of a complete cleansing and total renewal.
Let us study through a story in the Bible that helps us understand these truths. Sometimes a story can really bring clarity and help us see the truth of the gospel. Perhaps Jesus went to this story with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and helped them see Him in it (Luke 24:36-49). Can you see Him in it?
Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these men.” 39 One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine. He gathered some of its gourds and filled the fold of his cloak. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. 40 The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. 41 Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot. 2 Kings 4:38-41 (NIV)
Question 3. According to 2 Kings 4:39, what was put into the stew?
Question 4. According to 2 Kings 4:40, what was wrong with the stew?
Question 5. What was Elisha’s solution to the problem, and what were the results of applying that solution?
The problem is pretty clear in this story. Someone unwittingly put gourds of a wild vine into the pot of stew and apparently those gourds were poisonous. The poison from the wild vine began to work its way through the entire stew in the pot. When the men began to eat the stew, they discovered that the stew was poisonous: “there was death in the pot” (verse 40).
Elisha then told the men to get some flour, and when they put it into the stew “there was nothing harmful in the pot” (verse 41).
Can you imagine what might have happened if Elisha had told the men to take out the poison from the pot, one wild gourd at a time? Well, that would have been impossible. The poison had already worked its way through the entire pot so that the entire pot had death in it.
No, selective poisonous gourd removal was not the solution. Instead, Elisha told them to get some flour and put it into the pot. Miraculously, this flour drew all the poison to itself, radically cleansing the stew, and nothing harmful was left in the pot. The stew was made enjoyable and nourishing.
Question 6. Can you see how this story applies to the subject we are studying today? Please share your thoughts:
The pot of stew, with the poison all through it, is much like the heart and life of all men and women. We are born with the poison of sin in us, and that sin has worked its way through our entire being. A Bible writer by the name of Isaiah says it like this:
Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. 6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness–only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. Isaiah 1:5-6 (NIV)
In this passage we see the effects of rebellion. It brings wounds and sores and open welts to the whole body. Indeed, the injury and sickness is absolutely pervasive: the “whole head”, and the “whole heart” is afflicted, and there are wounds and open sores “from the sole of your foot to the top of your head.” The condition that sin and rebellion bring into the life is pervasive, and it is desperate.
The wording here is symbolic. The injured and sore head teach us that sin defiles our minds: our thoughts become entirely immersed in the sin on which we focus. The afflicted heart demonstrates that sin defiles our whole heart: our passions, longings and desires become distorted. The sores on the hands and feet remind us that our feet take us to where we can gratify our flesh, our hands are used for evil, etc. Friend, our whole self is defiled, weakened and made sick by sin.
Because of this infiltrating, all pervasive aspect of sin in our lives, all the attempts throughout the ages to focus on an individual sin and pluck it out of the heart have fallen short in providing lasting freedom. There is, however, a different way: the way of the gospel. The gospel way truly provides all that is necessary for overcoming. You can be confident that if you apply the gospel in your life you will indeed begin to overcome sin. Your testimony will reflect that the gospel is indeed “the power of God” (Romans 1:16-17) and that you are “overcoming the evil one” through it.
We can see the gospel way to overcome illustrated in the story of Elisha and the poisoned stew. Notice that Elisha’s solution was to take a substance outside of the pot and put it into the pot. He took flour and put it into the pot. And this new substance drew all the poison, all that caused death, right to itself. It took all the poison away from the stew, and left nothing but nourishment, satisfaction and life for the men who ate it. Think carefully about the meaning of the transformation of the stew from death to life and hear the gospel now:
Two thousand years ago God looked down on this earth, and saw nothing but “death in the pot.” The poison of sin had so worked its way through humanity that there was no health, no soundness, nothing but death. Sin had so infiltrated the human race that if He were to compare the world to a man He would say, “Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness– only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.”
So what did God do?
Question 7. What did God do about the sin problem that had so infiltrated the earth?
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)
God’s solution was to add something (Someone) external to the problem, and put Him into the very heart of the problem. God incarnate, Jesus, came to this earth where sin had infused itself into every human being, and He went to the cross. There at the cross He took all our sin to Himself. He took the poison of lying and lust, of gluttony and greed, of impurity and idolatry and all other sin right on Himself. Just like the flour in the pot miraculously removed the poison from the pot so that the stew would be healthy and not end in death, so Jesus became sin for us that we might live and enjoy spiritual health.
Oh what good news this is! This means that Jesus has come and dealt with our sin problem, that He has assumed our sin and guilt making it His very own, and that He has put it away forever. And the result is that we have life! Real life, abundant life and eternal life!
Dear friend, Jesus has taken all the poison and all the death of your sin to Himself, and He has left you nothing but life. The very purpose of His suffering was to heal your whole head and your whole heart (Isaiah 53:5), and to provide the healing balm that brings soundness and wholeness to your whole body.
This is the tremendously good news of the Bible. This is how we can overcome sin in our lives, through believing and applying this good news.
Question 8. Can you see now how this story in 2 Kings 4 points us to the work of Jesus Christ, as does every story in the Bible? Please share your thoughts here:
Now let us think through the application of this passage for our own lives. Let’s say that a family is having problems: the parents are upset with each other, the kids are fighting, creditors are calling, the dog is barking, and neighbors are complaining. There is no peace or harmony in the home.
What is needed here? Should they focus on learning how to overcome their anger? Or learning how to be better neighbors? Maybe learn seven steps to better parenting? Or take five steps toward financial freedom? These are not bad ideas, but they are short sighted. The problem is much deeper. Sin has worked its way through the entire household. What is needed is Jesus! The man, as the spiritual head of the home, needs to seek the Lord and bring Jesus into the home. He needs to start leading his family in worship, start studying the Bible and praying with them. In time, resolution and peace would come.
Or another situation: maybe someone is struggling with impurity. It seems that everywhere we look these days, we are bombarded with images that stir up wrong desires. This sin of immorality has worked its way through the entire pot of our existence. Do we put a filter on our computer? Or even cut off our internet access? We might and these things can help, but these acts are superficial and do not go deep enough: the whole head and the whole heart are injured and defiled through impurity and what we need is the gospel cure. We need to bring Jesus into our situation: to read and hear and discuss the gospel, to meditate on how good God has been to us in giving us His Son, to have our hearts set on fire with Jesus and our thoughts consumed with Him. This is a process by which we learn how to focus on Jesus, and learn how to bring Him into our situation, for wherever Jesus is by His Spirit there is life and freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
Pastor Mark Driscoll tells the account of sitting down with an elderly and very fruitful minister, and asking him one question: “How do you overcome sin in your life?” The pastor thought for a moment and said, “Well I don’t really know. I just spend as much time with Jesus as I can and sin seems to go away by itself.” Compare that response with those in support groups and sin-focused Bible studies, who are entirely consumed with the sin they are needing to be free from. The old pastor had it right: just spend time with Jesus, focus on Jesus, walk with Him by the Spirit, and you find yourself not gratifying the lusts of your flesh: “So I say walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
Question 9. Regarding your personal situation, how can you apply this teaching to yourself? Instead of attempting to remove an individual sin, how can you bring Jesus into your situation? Please describe in detail, and then expect your mentor to provide additional suggestions for you to implement.
Question 10. Please summarize the teaching of this lesson. What have you learned, and what changes will you make because of it?