Stop Blaming Satan for Your Sin

In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter gives this appeal: “Loved ones, I urge you, as foreigners and sojourners, to abstain from fleshly desires which wage war against your soul.”
As aliens and strangers, the Christian’s standing duty is, first, to abstain from fleshly desires. As a separate people, belonging to God (vv. 9-10), believers are to abstain from (not indulge in) fleshly lusts—those powerful desires that arise out of the flesh. “Flesh,” of course, is a word very commonly used in the New Testament to refer to our fallenness, and thus our proclivity, our natural tendency, toward sin. So Peter’s not talking about neutral desires; he specifically says “fleshly desires.” Now, the term “desire” is sometimes translated as “lust,” but it’s not necessarily a negative word. Desire, in and of itself, is not wicked. But desire turns sinful in one of two ways. You can desire too strongly something that is not evil in itself. And the other way that desire turns to lust is if the object of desire is in itself sinful. If the thing itself that you are desiring is sinful, then the desire itself is sinful, because sin is a heart issue before it is ever a physical act (Matt. 5:28). Entertaining the desire to commit a sinful act is itself a sin, because you are wanting to sin. So, desire can be fleshly lust by being a sinfully strong desire, or a sinfully directed desire.

Peter says these fleshly desires “wage war against your soul.” Paul talks about this battle in Romans 6 and 7 as his mind and his flesh struggling against each other—the inner man desiring to serve Christ, but the outer man being lured by sin. The figure of waging war that Peter uses here is not actually that of hand-to-hand-combat, but of a planned military expedition. These fleshly desires we have are like an army engaged in an ongoing campaign against us, aimed at capturing the believer and making him useless to God—a theme Peter picks up on more in his second letter.

There are two very important points to note here that I want to emphasize today. The first is that Peter is talking about your desires—the desires arising out of your fallen nature, that wage war against the soul. We tend to give way too much credit to Satan. Satan is not omniscient. He’s not omnipresent—he’s probably never personally, directly, bothered you… although his forces might. And he, and his demonic forces, are not omnipotent either—Satan can’t make you sin. And when we blame Satan for every sin in our lives and every temptation we face, 1) we give him far too much credit, and 2) it’s also a form of blame-shifting. If I can blame the devil for my sins, I’m also removing the responsibility from myself, and falling right back into the error of Adam and Eve when God confronted them about their sin. We need to remember that we have three enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil; and the most destructive, pervasive, and ever-present of those is the flesh. We’re quick to blame demonic activity for things that are actually just our own sinful flesh. James explains that temptation happens when we are lured and enticed by our own lusts (James 1:14). Additionally, even if there perhaps is demonic input at any given point, it’s still your choice. The devil cannot make you sin—that’s all you. When you sin, you are giving in to the flesh, rather than submitting to the Holy Spirit and obeying His Word. That’s it.

Now, that leads to the second reminder to take serious note of: your body cannot make you sin. The fact that we are not yet resurrected with our glorified bodies is why sin still has access to us. We have a regenerated spirit, but our physical flesh has not yet been redeemed—it’s where Paul gets the language of the inner man and outer man, and that’s why our sinful tendency (our proclivity toward sin) is often called “the flesh.”

(Don’t let that foster a sort of Gnostic dualism where the physical is bad, and the spiritual is good—that’s not what’s going on there.)

But the point is that we attribute an incredible amount of sin to the organic workings of our bodies. Whether it’s chemical balances, hormones, hunger, tiredness, headaches, or anything else, we think that explains, or at least excuses, our sin. But, guess what? My body cannot make me sin. Every single time I sin, it’s because I made a choice between submitting to the Holy Spirit or submitting to the flesh, and I chose to follow my flesh rather than the Spirit. And when we hear that, we tend to then begin rationalizing that these thoughts or words or actions, these outbursts I’m having, are not actually sinful then, because, again, some kind of organic thing explains it. But the test to apply—to determine whether something is really just excused because it’s an organic issue, or if it actually is a matter of sin that I have to make a choice to submit to Christ in—the test is to ask whether Scripture forbids or commands it. For example, does Scripture forbid forgetting things, losing your memory? No. So, as you get older and more forgetful, or as you get Alzheimer’s and get really forgetful… that’s not a sin issue. God doesn’t command us to have a good memory. Now, the way you respond to that trial might be a sin issue, and a very important issue to address.

Here’s a common example. People are quick to excuse whining in their children if their kids are hungry or tired. But what does the Scripture say? “Do everything without grumbling and arguing” (Phil. 2:14). Complaining is a sin for children just as much as for adults. The list of sins doesn’t change the older we get. Hunger or tiredness may be a contributing stressor, but we can’t address the physical stressor to the disregard of the spiritual response of disobedience.

We often we excuse someone’s anger because of hormones, or someone’s despair because of a chemical imbalance. We need to remember—and keep at the front of our minds every day—my body cannot make me sin. It sure can make things difficult; and we can address the organic matters as we also address the matter of my sinful or righteous responses, but my body cannot make me sin; and Satan cannot make me sin. My own desires tempt me, and so I must be diligent and vigilant in abstaining from them, because they are on an ongoing campaign to keep me from honoring and glorifying Jesus Christ.
To learn more about this difficult-to-navigate psychosomatic relationship mankind deals with, check out this helpful book. And to learn more about biblical counseling and the Bible’s instruction on and sufficiency for our growth in Christlikeness, check out the resources here.

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