Enemies of the Soul (2/17/19)

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One of my main responsibilities working for our family logging business was to design the road systems we would use to harvest the timber. To help understand the lay of the land and what I’d need to do, I would use a topographical map. It’s covered with lines that show changes in elevation. Lines that are spaced apart represent areas that are sloping or even flat. Lines close together show areas that are steep. Green colored areas represent land covered in trees and white colored areas show land that isn’t woodland. I’d study this map and then carry it with me as I journeyed into the mountains to start designing the road systems.

The Bible tells us we’re walking on another kind of journey. It’s called life. God has given us a map to show us what we need to look for as we move forward. One section of the map we need to study is 1 Peter 2:11-25. It says, “11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”

The opening sentence in this passage warns us our souls are being attacked and we need to make a conscious effort to protect them. Here’s where we need to stop and review something from last week. The four parts of the soul are:

*Mind – rational functions, such as thoughts

*Heart – attitudes, including emotions, desires

*Will – chooses and decides, such as want and dislikes

*Spirit – part of us that connects with God (Although there is debate among Bible scholars if the soul and spirit are the same thing, I’m including “spirit” in this discussion.)

After he mentions the soul, Peter continues writing instructions for us to follow. “12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Even though this passage is part of a letter encouraging Christians to persevere during extreme suffering, we see it also addresses several things that attack our souls and keep us in spiritual bondage.

Verse 11 introduces the first enemy of our souls. It says sinful desires wage war against them. Genesis 3 tells us Satan introduced sin into creation when he tempted Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. But it didn’t stop there. He’s still harassing and tempting followers of Jesus Christ. He hates God. He hates Jesus. He hates us. And he would love nothing better than to destroy us. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

One of his favorite weapons to unleash on us is sin. He tempts us to sin against God and against other people. He tries to get others to sin against us. These sins wage war against our souls because they create barriers with God and they damage people, including ourselves.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. I’ve asked Jesus into my heart. Sin no longer has any power over me.” This is true if you think of it from the perspective of salvation. Accepting Jesus as our Savior unites our spirit with God. But let me ask you a question. Did accepting Jesus into your heart automatically heal your mind, heart and will from the consequences of sin?

The church is full of people who are faithfully trusting Jesus as their Savior but are still carrying around the emotional scars of the things they’ve done. Others are still suffering from the effects of the sins that others committed against them. As Pastor Perry Noble said, “There’s a big difference between being forgiven and being healed.” Even though you’re forgiven, are you healed? If not, then sin is waging a war against your soul.

The second thing we see in the passage that wages war against our souls is the world. Peter instructs us on how to deal with non-believers who are just waiting for us to sin, how to view the leaders God has placed over us and how to react when others treat us harshly. Although we aren’t slaves, we still have to deal with these same issues. Comments and/or attacks from the people around us can lead us to live a watered-down faith because we don’t want to give them any reason to judge us or make us suffer.

We don’t like to suffer. No one does. We run from it like my overweight friend runs from lettuce. The problem for us is that suffering is part of being a disciple of Jesus. Vss. 20-21 says, “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you …” Running from suffering by pleasing the world around us weakens our relationship with Jesus. That wages war against our souls.

The third enemy of our soul is ourselves. We’re just like the people Peter was addressing in his letter. We’re human. This means we struggle with knowing how to live in a close relationship with God. One of our biggest self-induced problems is our busyness. Many of us, including myself, were raised believing there’s something wrong if we aren’t always working. We know it’s a national mindset.

According to businessinsider.com, a 2014 Gallup report estimated the average full-time worker in the United States worked 47 hours a week. That’s a short workweek for many of you. However, in some countries like Sweden and Germany, the average work week is closer to 35 hours.

Germans typically receive 4 weeks of vacation per year. The average American company gives two weeks per year but according to the website Glassdoor, the average US employee who receives paid vacation only take 54% of their allotted time each year.

I’m not saying Germany is right in everything it does and the US is wrong. But this comparison shows just how much of a workaholic nation we really are. While working hard is a biblical principle, overworking is not. Working so much that we don’t have the time or energy to walk with God is sin. And it wearies our soul.

Not only do we wear ourselves out being busy, we also wear ourselves out trying to please other people. I’ve come to realize that I can show more concern about what other people think than I do about what God thinks. As I’ve talked with many of you about this subject over that past couple of weeks, I’ve come to realize many of you struggle with the same thing.

Jesus didn’t do that. Peter says in Vs. 23 that “when they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate.” He simply didn’t respond to his critics. Worrying more about what other people think than about what God thinks is exhausting. It wears down our soul.

The last area we need to look at is the hardest for Christians to recognize. It’s religion. We know James talks about “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless” (1:27). I’m not talking about this, which is based on walking with God and being obedient to him.

I’m talking about legalism. By this I mean a faith that’s defined by rules instead of walking with the Holy Spirit and with Jesus. It’s about being told to shun people who disagree with you instead of loving them. Legalism is thinking a relationship with Jesus is giving him one hour a week for worship and ignoring him the rest of the time. It’s when the type of seating in the sanctuary is more important than reaching other people with the gospel of Jesus. Legalism appears when we think we’re better than other Christians or denominations.

In many ways, legalism is easier. Make the rules. Follow the rules. And you’re in. This is what the Pharisees did. And Jesus blasted them for it.

Another dangerous part of religion is the wolves. They are the men and women who say they speak for God yet preach and teach things that are unbiblical. In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul was saying good-by to the church leaders from Ephesus. His message included a very strong warning. He said in Acts 20:28-30 – “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

There are plenty of teachers out there who only preach feel good messages that tickle people’s ears. Perhaps they do it to be popular. Maybe they don’t know any better. Either way, they’re wrong. And they’re dangerous to the soul because they give it false hope.

If we stopped here, it would be pretty depressing because there wouldn’t be much hope for the soul. But we won’t stop here. There is a solution. Let’s go back and look at what Peter said beginning at verse 23. “23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Jesus died on the cross so our sins could be forgiven. We now follow him because he is “the Shepherd and Overseer of ‘our’ souls.”

We must never forget that simply talking about this isn’t enough. When I was logging, it didn’t work if I took the topographical map, looked at it and then sat in the truck. I had to use the map as a guide and then go to work.

If we want to receive and enjoy every blessing that Jesus has for us, then we need to use the Bible as a guide and get to work doing what we need to do. This includes accepting what Jesus did on the cross and then going there ourselves. Galatians 6:14 says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

We have to quit making excuses for our sin. We need to repent of them. We must be more concerned with pleasing God than with pleasing other people. Being obedient to Jesus and following him has to take precedence over being busy. We need to crave pure religion instead of legalism and feel good philosophies. We must follow Jesus.

(Next week, we’ll look at how God interacts with our souls.)