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Breaking Sinful Strongholds
Text: Galatians 5:19-21.
Galatians 5:19-21 refers to the works of the flesh or the acts of the sinful nature (NIV): this is a list of sinful actions. The list is not intended to be comprehensive as indicated by, “and the like” (21). Paul issues the sobering warning “that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (21). He prescribes the antidote to overcome the acts of the sinful nature: living or walking by the Spirit, which also includes the practice of the fruit of the Spirit (16, 22-23). If Christians fail to guard their hearts, they can find themselves doing the works of the flesh. Mental and spiritual strongholds can develop to the extent that sinful behavior becomes compulsive.
Paul begins by mentioning the sin of adultery. This can be defined as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse. According to Jesus, adultery goes beyond the physical act of sexual intercourse and includes looking at a woman lustfully (Matthew 5:28). Adultery also includes emotional attachments, turning to another person for the emotional satisfaction that should only come from your spouse. Some of these emotional attachments will eventually lead to sexual affairs.
There can be various reasons why people commit adultery. Some men are dominated by lust; their wandering eyes lead them to take incremental steps toward adultery. Some persons are bored in their marriage and feel that they have to do something to “spice” up their life, to break free of the monotony. Some are disappointed and dissatisfied in their marriage; perhaps the husband does not spend quality time with his family; perhaps the woman is career driven and at night is too tired to meet her husband’s sexual needs. Some persons feel that their marriage is over, so even before there is a separation or divorce, they feel that it is alright to begin dating someone else. Additionally, some persons justify adultery by saying that they are no longer in love with their spouse; rather, they have found someone else. It doesn’t help that secular society at times excuses and encourages adultery by its overemphasis on sex, hedonistic living (doing what feels good, rather than what is right) and humanism (you are the center of the world type of thinking). Regardless of the reasons, adultery is always wrong; it is always sinful; it is always demonic.
Some people may think of adultery as just “stepping out,” a casual mistake that can be easily remedied or should just be simply accepted as the reality of life. The harsh truth is that there are serious consequences of adultery. The most important consequence is that our relationship with God is affected and can even be broken. Any person who continues to sin presumes on the grace of God. God will not be mocked; what a man sows, he will reap. If he sows to the sinful nature, the Bible says that he will reap destruction (Galatians 5:8). The victim of adultery is often emotionally devastated: he or she feels betrayed; there is anger, depression, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness. The wounded spouse may retaliate by having an affair as well. Children are also negatively impacted; they may be asked to take sides. The wounded spouse may tell them all the sordid details. This leaves them divided, conflicted, angry and confused. There are many other consequences that affect the home, the work place, career, church. With the church, it is particularly devastating when the adulterer is a pastor. While there are intense temptations out there in our world, we can never justify giving into those temptations.
The best way to deal with adultery is to prevent it from happening in the first place. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Galatians admonishes us to live by the Spirit and we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (5:16). The first key to preventing adultery is to have a strong personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. If we are truly full of the Holy Spirit, then it will be extremely difficult to give into temptation and to moments of emotional weakness. If we are going in the wrong direction, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to convict us; our consciences will be open to His conviction. Another way of preventing adultery is to have a strong marriage that is mutually satisfying. This involves having devotions (the couple that prays together stays together) communicating with your spouse (both talking and listening), times of romance, frequent expressions of love, sexual intimacy, honesty and other such actions that strengthen the marriage.
Part of preventing adultery is fixing yourself, that is, dealing with the issues that make you vulnerable to an affair. This means dealing with insecurity and emotional weakness. The Bible tells us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). We must also know ourselves by knowing whether we are attracted to someone other than our spouse. We must take immediate steps to kill those thoughts and feelings. It is necessary to avoid risky situations that could potentially lead to an affair. For example, we should avoid flirting: no, it is not a playful or innocent activity. We should avoid being alone with the opposite sex, especially in intimate types of situations such as taking the person to lunch and going to the person’s house when no one else is there. We should also avoid excessive interaction with any one person through phone calls, texts and social media. These actions can stimulate strong feelings of attraction. Finally, I would recommend that you be accountable to other persons. Adultery strives in secrecy; by being open and honest with others, you will have people who will pray with you and who can help you if illicit feelings develop.
Another work of the flesh is fornication, which is immoral sexual activity and intercourse; it includes taking pleasure in pornography and other lustful practices. In times past, one of the main sources of pornography was “dirty magazines.” Now pornography is easily accessible through the internet. Any person can do a quick search and have access to thousands of sites with every type of sexual deviance imaginable. Many persons are addicted to pornography; they find themselves unable to stop searching for and finding pleasure in the images. The addiction is not only insatiable but also degenerative: persons look for more vulgar and risqué pictures that may include orgies, sadomasochism (S&M), homosexuality, pedophilia and bestiality. Some persons really want to be free, but find themselves trapped, which leads to frustration and feelings of worthlessness. They may even determine that there is no cure, so they could as well give into the cravings.
Fornication includes a number of activities such as fondling, oral sex and masturbation. Some persons may have a problem with masturbation but may not have a problem with pornography; however, it still is the spirit of lust that is controlling. For dating and courting couples there is that perennial challenge of how far is too far. Influenced by the world, persons increasingly go deeper and deeper into sexual activity. It is important to remember that God is holy and calls His people to holiness. The best thing is to stay away from physical contact until marriage; it may be old fashioned but it works.
There are various reasons for fornication, of course none of which are justifiable. As alluded to, there is the pressure of our culture. The world has no qualms about the acceptability of virtually every form of fornication. Our teenagers are exposed to various media that tell them to indulge with the only caution of covering up (condom use). Many persons, particularly our youth, want to fit in. There are some women who feel that their “biological clock” is reaching its death throes, so they find whatever man is willing so they can have a child. There are emotional issues – feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, wanting to be loved – that lead people into sexual activity. There may be a lack of boundaries, for example, boys and girls freely mingling, getting overly familiar with each other. Then there are those men that feel they must prove their manhood by bedding every woman they can find.
There are several dangers of being involved in premarital sexual activity. The most critical of which is breaking our fellowship with God. Fornication is a sin and sin inevitably separates us from God when it is not confessed and repented of. Fornication defrauds another person; it takes away their potential for intimacy with another person. It leads to the establishing of soul ties that result in demonic influences operating in our lives. Fornication can lead to unwanted pregnancies, which could lead to the rejection and abuse of children. It could lead to abortion as persons decide that they don’t want to be saddled with the responsibility of raising a child or they are ashamed to face their family, work place or the church. Fornication can result in shame and guilt that can negatively impact future relationships or marriage. It is imperative that we understand that we can keep ourselves pure in spite of strong sexual desires.
Uncleanness covers a number of sins including sexual sins, evil actions and sinful thoughts and desires of the heart. The word is used in Jesus’ criticism of the religious leaders of His day who outwardly appeared to be holy but internally were sinful and wicked (Matthew 23:27). People who have uncleanness in their heart are hypocritical and deceitful. Paul admonishes believers not to yield to uncleanness, which leads to iniquity, but to yield to righteousness, which leads to holiness (Romans 6:19). Impurity in thoughts leads to impurity in speech and in actions.
Further, uncleanness is something to be repented of (2 Corinthians 12:21). Believers must also have pure motives for all that they do in contrast to unclean motives. For example, some people do ministry as a performance, to impress others and to be seen of men. Jesus warned His disciples not to pray in order to be seen by men (Matthew 6:5). Believers need to remember that we live in a sinful and unclean world. This means that most things in our world are suspect, that is, containing principles and values that contradict the truth of Scripture and the purity that God requires. This includes the world’s conversation, media and educational system. To truly understand and live out purity, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit, spend quality time hearing the voice of God through the Scriptures and must obey what God commands in His Word.
Lasciviousness can be defined as sensuality; it involves following one’s passions and desires to the point of having no shame or public decency. It is referred to as lewdness, wrong use of the senses and lustful pleasures. Sensuality can be expressed in the way persons dress – the wearing of tight, short, revealing clothing. Christians need to remember that current fashions can be part of the sinful world system. Just because it’s in vogue does not mean that Christians should wear it. The Bible still admonishes us to dress modestly. If the clothes being made are too sensual, then we may simply need to have them made. It is better to live to please God than to compromise with worldly values.
Sensuality also includes seductive body language such as excessive touching, lustful looks and invasion of persons’ personal space (being too close physically to a person). It also includes flirting with a person other than your wife (if you are married). Flirting is always wrong and can send the wrong signals to another person. Some persons flirt with the intention that it doesn’t actually get into emotional and physical ties; however, this is like playing with dynamite and hoping that it doesn’t explode. Flirting can lead to attraction, which can potentially lead to having an affair. Sensuality also includes sexualized conversations and lewd jokes (it’s amazing some of the vulgar jokes that Christians tell, listen to or send by social media).
Some passions and desires are ungodly, and then there are some that are legitimate but when influenced by the flesh and the devil can get out of control. For example, the desire for sex is a legitimate desire if it is properly satisfied in the context of marriage. However, the excessive desire for sex leads to fornication and adultery. The desire for food is necessary to satisfy a basic need, but an over preoccupation with food leads to gluttony. The desire for success and prosperity can degenerate into greed, controlling and manipulating others, contention, striving for position and materialism.
There is the myth of “freedom” that somehow under the covenant of grace believers are at liberty to do whatever they want. Unfortunately, we can be products of our culture and the world system more than we are products of the righteousness and kingdom of God. This is why the apostle Paul urges us, “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1, 2). The enemy’s subtle deception is to make us like the world so that there is nothing really distinguishing us as Christians; this renders our testimony ineffective. Reputation matters: Christian leaders are to have a good testimony as should all Christians.
Idolatry can be defined as the worship of spirits, persons or graven images. It includes trusting in any person, institution or thing as having equal or greater authority than God and in His Word. Idolatry is seen in where we invest our time, talent and treasure. Unless we have come from an animistic or occult background, idolatry in the Western church tends to revolve around things and people. Perhaps one of the main manifestations of idolatry in the West is greed – the perennial lust of materialism. Another form of idolatry is self – the dethroning of God and the enthroning of the self life, a life influenced by the worldly philosophy of humanism. Humanism places man at the center of everything, leaving no real room for God except as a compartment of man’s life.
There are two aspects of idolatry in the West that I would like to address. One of the two is church idolatry. God intended the local church to be an important means of equipping the saints, and we should be faithful and loyal to our church. Church idolatry includes seeing our church as the only church. There is an overemphasis on the local church and a de-emphasis of the universal church – the church of God worldwide. Because we only see our church, we tend not to see that God has only one church of which we are a part. There is a spirit of pride and superiority in these churches: we are better than other churches because we have more business people, more doctors and lawyers, more ministries, more money and the list can go on. Church idolatry is also characterized by the rejection and alienation of those who have left the church: the feeling is that once you have left, you are an outsider, even though some of those persons would have made significant contributions to the growth and development of the church.
An idolatrous church may operate with cultic tendencies. For example, church ministry is considered more important than family and marriage. I have seen people actively involved in church ministry, doing whatever the church leadership mandated at the expense of the breakup of their marriage. Though God should come first, family second then the church and its ministry, the order typically becomes church, God then family. With these misplaced priorities, it is no wonder that there is much confusion in some churches. The church may control various aspects of people’s personal lives; there are no boundaries; people may look to the church to give them detailed guidance for their lives rather than depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit, common sense and wisdom. Idolatrous churches often use guilt to drive people to action. In some instances, the church does not have an idolatrous culture and the leaders of the church may simply be serving God, but persons may simply act as if the church is their source of salvation.
The second of the two forms of idolatry that I want to address is pastor/minister idolatry. The fivefold ministry has been given for the equipping of the saints, to empower them to do the work of the ministry and most importantly to help Christians be like Christ. Ministers are expected to operate in humility and serve the people while setting an example in righteous living. However, some people idolize their pastors. Some of this is encouraged by ministers who are either insecure or influenced by a spirit of worldliness: they have succumbed to the spirit of pride, the same spirit that caused Lucifer to be evicted from heaven.
The idolatry of pastors is seen in accepting without discernment everything that the pastor teaches or advocates. It is true that ministers have the responsibility to teach us the Word of God, but they are fallible and can make mistakes, especially if they have not taken the time to properly prepare themselves in prayer and study. Even then, ministers can still misunderstand the counsel of God. Believers are encouraged to test everything; we are to be like the Bereans who diligently studied the Word to ensure that they were receiving the truth (Acts 17:11). Paul warned the elders of the church of Ephesus that false teachers would arise from among them (Acts 20:30). Some followers ascribe deity like status to the pastor, putting the pastor on a pedestal, the high place where only God should sit. They treat the pastor as if he is the only “man of God,” as if there are no other ministers. The feeling is that the pastor cannot sin, and there may be an ignoring of the sins that the pastor has committed: members may rationalize his shortcomings. We should respect, honor, reward and submit to our pastors, but we must not worship them.
Witchcraft includes such things as sorcery, spiritism, black magic, worship of demons and the use of drugs to produce “spiritual experiences.” Sorcery can be defined as the “use of supernatural power over others through the assistance of spirits” (thefreedictionary.com). One of the aims of sorcery is to control and manipulate others so that you can get what you want from them. Another aim is to bring loss or destruction to someone else. This may include causing persons to get sick or to die; for example, a woman may want another woman’s husband and may resort to sorcery to get her out of the picture. Such a person may claim to be a Christian operating under the mistaken notion that the man is “God’s will” for her. They may pray to “God” for Him to intervene in their favor. Such carnal prayers can be answered by demons, who the Bible says can masquerade as angels of light.
Spiritism is the belief that the dead communicate with the living. This can happen innocently enough as the product of grief when a person has recently lost a loved one. However, there are persons who practice communicating with the dead not realizing that they are communicating with demonic spirits. Spiritism occurs all over the world, but particularly occurs among those cultures who believe in ancestral spirits. Some spiritists believe in reincarnation – that the dead come back to life in the form of a different person or animal. Black magic is considered to be magic used for evil purposes. This presupposes that magic can be used for good purposes – so called white magic. However, both forms of magic are demonic because they involve the use of spiritual powers outside of God.
Satan wanted Jesus to worship him (Matthew 4:9). Jesus’ response was, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10). There are people who choose to worship the devil and his demons rather than choose to worship God. Paul indicates that the worship of idols or gods other than the true and living God is simply demon worship (1 Corinthians 10:20). The use of drugs to produce spiritual experiences was evident in the psychedelia of the 1960s where drugs and rock music were used simultaneously to give people a religious high. It is evident in Rastafarianism, where rastas believe that marijuana is necessary to create the spiritual consciousness needed to connect with Jah. Any such activity is demonic and will lead to being influenced and controlled by demons.
Witchcraft also includes involvement in Masonic lodges, so called “secret societies.” Unfortunately, the secret is out, as lodges actively recruit persons to join and persons indicate their involvement by the symbols on their ring or vehicle. The lodge appears to be another civic organization, no different from Kiwanis or the Lion’s Club. However, the truth is far more sinister. Simply put, Masonic lodges are really occult in practice and ideology. A search on “Masonic lodge Christian perspective” will bring up various articles that give insight as to why Christians should avoid this deception of the devil.
Witchcraft is being heavily promoted through various media such as television, movies and music. For example, the Harry Potter series, both the books and the movies, heavily promote witchcraft and espouse the concept of good and bad witchcraft. For years, some rock and heavy metal music promoted the demonic. Even some of the album covers and names showed the emphasis on the occult. Some of the current music videos by various artistes in different genres promote the demonic. Our children aren’t simply being entertained, they are being demonized by media that is anti-God and pro-satan. Christians also need to be aware of the various symbols that are used in witchcraft and the occult such as the five pointed star, the peace symbol (the upside down, broken cross) and the unicorn horn. Symbols and objects can be means of demonic oppression.
In the Old Testament, Balaam was a pagan prophet who used divination to contact various deities. At the same time, he was also able to contact Jehovah, the one true God. Rather than abandon divination to worship God only, he became syncretistic combining both divination and prayer to connect with God. Some persons practice syncretism merging faith in God with the use of witchcraft. Voodoo, for example, is syncretistic. Another example is the Spiritual Baptists who incorporate African ancestral and Christian worship. Syncretism is often found in people who have come from an animist background. Christians in the Western world are not exempt. Some of them look to horoscopes for guidance or practice various forms of New Age such as Reiki and yoga.
Witchcraft involves the use of satanic power to achieve a particular result. This may explain why some persons identify control and manipulation as tools of witchcraft. The devil is not omnipotent, but he does have power, power that is used for malevolent purposes. It is important to remember that the devil is a deceiver. He can make the use of his power seem like something benevolent, at least for the first (white magic versus black magic). However, anything that originates from the devil, regardless of how innocent it seems, is evil and destructive. The devil also does counterfeit miracles through false prophets. Should we be skeptical of the miraculous in churches? No, but we should be discerning to recognize what originates with God and what comes from the devil. Jesus told us to watch out for false prophets and that we will recognize them by their fruit (Matthew 7:15 – 20). Their prophecies are false and misleading; they teach false doctrines and they live ungodly lives (either secretly or openly).
These are some of the works of the flesh that can become strongholds in the lives of believers. We have to understand what’s at stake. There is a real enemy who wants to destroy our lives by various means, but there is a loving God who gives us the power to overcome the devil’s devices and to live free. The real key to breaking free and staying free is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Jesus has already won the victory. Everything that we need for life and godliness has already been provided.
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