Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 1: Acknowledge the Power of Your Actions
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 2: Know What God Requires
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 3: Make Your Action Plan
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 4: Get Ready for War
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 5: Master Your Biggest Enemy
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 6: Fight This Fight
Rachel Denhollander, Abigail, Esther, Jael, and the others we referenced in the last article are incredible examples of women strong enough to stand up to sinful men, at great personal risk to themselves. As we discussed in the last article, the strength that can make a woman devastating to a wicked man is exactly the kind of strength God wants us to have. As we said in Article 1, God does not ask us to smile at debasing attention, suffer injustice silently, cover things up, fall down before the wicked, and be ignorant in the face of evil: He has actually given us specific instruction on how to be the kind of person who does the opposite of all these things.
But that is, sadly, easier said than done. If our only enemy was the sin of other people, that would make dealing with predators far easier than it is in reality. The reality is, we all have a traitorous sin nature which can sometimes be all too willing to welcome a predator at the gate, enjoy being the occasion for his sin, hanker for the “compliment” of his attention and the gratification of his affection, push us towards him for more, and keep us from tearing away. Not that this makes a predator less culpable if he takes advantage of this, or makes anything he does “our fault” or something that we “deserved” (as we explained in Article 1) – but a predator will definitely see vulnerabilities like this as a golden opportunity, and make the most of it.
In Christ, we are not defined by our sin nature. If we are God’s daughters, we can have full assurance that our hearts have been “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb. 10:22) Our identity has changed from “guilty” to “justified” in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 6:11) But the reality of our old sinful nature still affects our lives. When it comes to the gaining the strength to resist evil, one of the most important things we can do is recognize the specific sins that weaken us – and embrace the Lord’s grace “to put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires… and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24)
Those of us who have never faced intense pressure from a seducer or predator may wonder: How would we actually respond to a situation like that? How strong are we, really? Fortunately, without having to experience a major crisis first-hand, there are a few clues we can look at in our current lives to get an idea of how likely we would be to say “yes” or “no” to a man’s pressuring.
Do we say “yes” to inner emotional warm-fuzzies after a guy has flattered us?
Do we say “yes” to the fears that make us keep silent when we know there’s something that needs to be said?
Do we say “yes” to the pressure to go along with things friends want to do, even when we know it’s a bad idea?
Do we say “yes” to the temptation to do nothing, when doing something sounds really hard and scary?
Do we say “yes” to the temptation (we all have it) to dress or act in a way that will draw men’s eyes to us?
Do we say “no” when a guy friend gives us attention as though we were something other than “a sister, with all purity”?
Do we say “no” to the temptation to laugh at the inappropriate joke everyone else is laughing at?
Do we say “no” to the inner voice that says “You’re not in any position to call someone to account for something – you’re a sinner too!”
Do we own the responsibility for our own sin, without blaming others?
Do we let other people dictate our sense of right and wrong, to the point that we feel guilt over things that weren’t wrong?
Do we ask first what God thinks about everything, before consulting our own inclinations and feelings?
Do we back up the things we say with our actions?
Do we approach situations asking what we have to personally gain or lose?
We practice saying “yes” or “no” first of all to our own selves. Of course there are situations where we’re given no option of saying “yes” or “no,” and there are circumstances outside of our control, but many times we do have a measure of control: to leave or stay, respond or not respond, take the bait or not take the bait. Predators are banking on the fact that we’ll be gullible or easily worn down, and if we’ve been practicing saying “yes” to temptation or pressure from our own flesh, then we probably will be. If, on the other hand, we’ve been practicing, daily, saying “no” to the entitled, demanding, manipulative, deceitful, controlling, toxic voice of our own flesh, we’ll be that much more prepared to stand up to it in someone else.
In any situation involving a predator, we’re up against not one sin nature, but two – the predator’s, and our own. 2 Peter 2:14 and 2 Timothy 3:2-7 describe men who are manipulators, liars, flatterers, extortionists, opportunists, and false teachers (men who use persuasion rather than physical force to subdue victims). But these verses (as well as Ephesians 4:14) also describe the sort of victims who are vulnerable to being “beguiled,” “led captive,” and “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning and craftiness in deceitful schemes”: It says they are “weak women laden with sins, led away with diverse lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” “unstable souls,” and “like children.” In other words, whether or not we could be led captive by men like this hangs on whether we are “weak”; laden down or “piled up” with sins; led around by longings and lusts of various kinds; and in spite of going here and there for answers, not being solidly grounded in the truth.
From Weakness Were Made Strong
Emily truly did want to do the right thing in her relationship with Bryan. She genuinely believed that the things Bryan continually pressured her to do were wrong, and she really did mean “no” every time she said it. But in each encounter, her resolve crumbled under the pressure of his arguments and pleadings, the fear of hurting or angering him… and honestly, sometimes, the overwhelmingly strong desire for what he offered her. Emily’s no floozy, but her natural desires are simply a lot stronger than her spiritual ones. Does this feel familiar?
We can’t say often enough that Bryan and Bryan alone bears the blame for what Bryan did. Emily’s weaknesses didn’t force Bryan to sin against her, and also didn’t mean that she deserved it. But they did betray her into the hands of a predator when it was fully in her power to escape.
How does a weak woman become strong? Does Emily have any hope of becoming the fearless champion of right that she aches to be… a woman who could actually stand by her words, who could actually walk away from her encounters with Bryan without regrets, who could dare to ask trusted friends for help without fear of Bryan’s fury…? What do you do when you know you don’t have the strength you need?
In Scripture there is a simple, powerful, life-changing principle that explains how we practically get from point A to point B in our Christian growth. “Do not be deceived,” begins Galatians 6:7,8: “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
The truth is, we are what we have sowed to. What are we sowing, in our minute-by-minute thoughts, feelings, actions, and desires? What part of ourselves are we feeding and strengthening? Have we even considered how the things we indulge in our hearts and minds right now affect us and our spiritual strength for the future?
This passage tells us not only that we will reap the things we sowed, but also that we will not reap things we didn’t take the trouble to sow. In other words, we can’t feed a weakness for illicit attention, out-of-place affection, or charming scoundrels, and expect to reap strength of resistance for the day of battle.
If we’re using music, movies, or novels, to sow to inappropriate fantasies, misplaced longings, or emotional roller-coasters, we must not expect to reap purity, clear-mindedness, emotional self-control, and a strong grip on reality. If we’re sowing to moral confusion by sympathizing with people in those movies, music, or novels doing things we know are wrong, we must not expect to reap moral clarity and resolve in the times when we need it most. If we’re sowing to an affection for the wrong things in men, we must not expect to be more drawn to godliness and holiness than good looks, rakish charm, and edgy humor. And if we’re sowing thoughts and actions from our natural desire for men to notice us, like us, want us… we must not expect to respond really selflessly, righteously, and uncompromisingly when one does. Because God’s laws of sowing and reaping don’t work that way.
Emily needs to realize that the moment-by-moment decisions she makes today about what thoughts and feelings she will indulge will powerfully affect her level of strength and maturity for tomorrow’s battles. The more she feeds the desires of her flesh, the stronger they will be. But the more she sows to the Spirit, the more she will reap the graces of eternal life in her entire being. The more she listens to the promptings of the Spirit, the louder His voice will be in her head. The more she seeks and prays for the strength of the Spirit, the more that power will flow through her, stronger than any desire of her flesh. “Walk by the Spirit,” says Galatians 5:16, “and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
And that’s the beauty of this principle and this promise: We have never missed our chance to sow today what we want to reap tomorrow. Because we will reap tomorrow – God promises. It’s never too late. We can start right now.
Sow This, Not That
So here are some things we have to be sure we’re not sowing to in order to have the kind of strength that handling bad men requires. If we can put these to death, we’ll be the last kind of women an Ephesians 4 man will want to mess with.
Vanity – the pride that makes us find our worth in how much men notice us, admire us, and want us. When men’s affirmation of us becomes something we’re dependent on, something we use to feed our egos and puff us up, something we’ll strive for at all costs (even the cost of sinning), we’re in trouble already. If we enjoy inciting their lust, we won’t be good at shutting it down; if we live on their compliments, we’ll be putty in the hands of a flatterer. These weaknesses will make us toxic friends for them, too, because we won’t be satisfied unless they’re giving in to the temptations to do these things. By the way – though we pointed out in the first article that a man’s choice to commit the sin of lust is his own responsibility, we do need to acknowledge that doing anything calculated to provoke their lust is our own sin of lust (the lust to be lusted after), and our own kind of being predatory.
Thankfully, this appetite can be quelled if we just stop feeding it, and start feeding something else – in this case, a passionate desire for God gloried above all else, and hankering to see the men around us fix their eyes on Him. The little things we do (we know what they are) to look or act in just such a way to draw men to us, need to be replaced with actions that will push them towards their Savior, instead. This will probably involve developing a vision and a plan for new habits of interacting and presenting ourselves that are in keeping with a desire to “decrease” that He may “increase.” (John 3:30)
Unbiblical neediness, or emotional idolatry – having needs that we feel cannot be or are not being met by God – whether for companionship, love, affection, security, comfort, or a sense of worth – that we depend on other sources to meet. If we feel like we would die without attention/a boyfriend/a particular guy, and attaining that is the main thing that drives us, we are putting our faith in an idol and not God (Ex. 20:1-8). Every decision we make about how we present ourselves, where we go, what activities we take up, and who we decide to spend time with, can be like little sacrifices we make to this idol with the hope of earning its favor and in dread of not getting it. This is a kind of slavery that as Psalm 135: 15-18 promises will make us as blind, deaf, weak, and as helpless as the false gods we’ve created.
Praise the Lord that this is the kind of slavery that Christ has come to set us free from. Let’s claim this freedom and “flee from idolatry” by seeking the companionship, love, affection, security, comfort, and worth that God offers us as His children, and with hearts of gratitude (not dread) serve Him with the little sacrifices of our time, thoughts, and efforts that we once offered to a false god. This will probably involve an overhaul of the minute-by-minute choices we make throughout the day: to either spend 30 minutes shopping for a particular clothing item we hope will impress a certain someone, or to spend it engaged in the good works of (invisible) service that we know will please the Lord; to listen to a song that stirs up our inner romantic neediness, or to listen to a sermon; to spend an hour texting a particular person, or to spend that hour reading the Word and communing with Christ. It’s in these simple little acts of service to one God or another, that our idols will either be built up or torn down.
Lack of steadfastness – the inability to persevere. After battling to make a hard decision, sometimes we’re not prepared for how many times we’ll have to fight the same battle over and over again. And we get worn down. We get tired of saying no. We say “Don’t call me again,” but we answer the phone as soon as they do. The ability to win the battle depends on having the steadfastness to stick to our own principles, and that’s hard when other people and our own flesh are battering, relentlessly, against our resolve. The recent flood of scandals, including in the Christian community, includes far too many examples of women essentially saying, “Oh, I did rebuff his advances – every time we went out! I was never OK with the things he was pressuring me into doing, and I would tell him so every time it happened.” As a critically-injured young woman said when asked by her doctor why she didn’t just leave her abusive boyfriend: “Oh, but I have, Doctor – dozens of times!”
Scripture tells us several times to “stand firm,” to be steadfast and immovable. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
Steadfastness is one of the qualities that the heroines in the Bible had that we should all desperately want, and thankfully James 1:2-4 tells us how to get it: “Count it all joy [we should be really excited about this], my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Steadfastness is not just something that we either have or we don’t – it’s actually something God is developing in us through the specific trails he sends. And we should be welcoming these – every difficulty, annoyance, temptation, or dilemma that comes our way – as a test of our faith and an opportunity to exercise our “steadfastness muscles.” So let’s practice sticking to our resolves (even the little ones) whenever temptation is calling to let them go. Let’s practice standing firm on something we know is right when the pressure of the crowd is against us. Let’s make a habit of refocusing on our objective when we start to feel tired and worn down. And let’s remember that this promise is waiting for us at the end: “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3-4)
Fear – the fear of loss, of retribution, of shame, of the unknown; of making a scene, of taking a risk; of rational things, of irrational things. It doesn’t make a difference what it is: Once we fix our fear on something other than God, we are bound and gagged. “The fear of man lays a snare,” says Proverbs 29:25, “but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” Conversely, “In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence,” says Proverbs 14:26-27, “…that one may turn away from the snares of death.” The fear of man is not something we have in addition to the fear of God – it is a rival to it, and how much we have of one is that much less that we have of the other.
Basically, we need to be cultivating a constant awareness of God’s presence wherever we go and whoever we’re with. Our minds should always be tuned in to His opinions and preferences as though we really viewed Him as the strongest and most powerful Person in every room and every group. This will require a very deep and intimate understanding of Who He is, and what He says about Himself, us, His promises, His warnings, and the things He loves and He hates. We’ll need to practice keeping these truths at the forefront of our minds when we’re around other people, and we’ll need to practice speaking up and taking a stand for these truths when it’s scary and makes us unpopular. The more we do this, the more the focus of our fear will be shifted from people to God, and we’ll develop a reputation for being the kind of girl that would get an abuser in deep trouble.
Selfish ambition – wanting the perks (you name it – favorite-status, admiration, promotion, money, fame, popularity) that would come with being on this person’s good side. There is a kind of covetousness and ambition that women are very prone to when it comes to men, especially when it involves competing with other women. It’s the most natural thing in the world; James 3:14-16 calls it “earthly, natural, and demonic,” and says it brings “disorder and every evil thing” – truly scary things to introduce into any of our relationships.
The counter-action is, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3) For instance, to start thinking of the other girls as being more important than we are (which would even include seeing their relational lives or marital prospects as more important than ours). To stop seeing ourselves as the main character in the story, and all the other girls as supporting characters (or villains). To consider the souls of the young men around us (including their focus and their purity) more important than the ego boost we could get from them.
Instability of soul – 2 Pet. 2:14 says that men who have “eyes full of adultery” “entice unstable souls.” The word “unstable” means “unfixed,” “vacillating,” “unsteady.” An unstable girl is one who is not solidly, unshakeably rooted in what God says – she can be drawn or persuaded or manipulated by some other voice telling her “I’m only doing this because I love you so much…” “Did God say it’s a sin to do X? Don’t be such a legalist!” “It’s actually your fault I did Y, because you tempted me…” “If you tell anyone, my life will be ruined, and you’ll have to live with that!” Rather than moor her concept of reality and morality to God’s unchanging standard and hold herself ruthlessly to it, an unstable girl has already set herself up for failure by letting herself be driven by her own changing appetites, affections, interests, and whims (or by the whims of others). The good news is, an unstable soul can be “transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:2) God gives us the rock-solid foundation of His Word that we can use to tie down our wandering, unsettled beliefs. Our vacillating standards can be firm. Our limp convictions can be bolstered. Our uncertain feelings-based judgement can be replaced by the ability to test and know beyond a shadow of a doubt what God’s perfect will is, and isn’t. Let’s be renewing our minds daily by washing them in the water of the Word.
Spiritual laxness – when we identify as the Lord’s servants, and yet are not actively seeking out our Master’s will and striving to understand what He wants us to do.
Ten girls were in a wedding party. They each had one job: to have their lamps alight when the bridegroom arrived. But the bridegroom came late, and by that time, five of the girls’ lamps had already gone out – unlike the other five, they hadn’t thought to bring extra oil. They had come ready to hold lamps and identify themselves as light-bearers, but weren’t thinking seriously or carefully about all that fulfilling their job (providing light for the Bridegroom) would require them to do.
Jesus referred to the prepared virgins as “wise,” and the unprepared virgins, not as “disadvantaged by circumstances,” but as “foolish.” As Matthew Henry describes them: “They have no principle within. They have a lamp of profession in their hands, but have not in their hearts that stock of sound knowledge, rooted dispositions, and settled resolutions, which is necessary to carry them through the services and trials of the present state. They act under the influence of external inducements, but are void of spiritual life…”
This parable comes directly before the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30), which contrasts the faithful stewards who took initiative to multiply their master’s talents, and “wicked and lazy” steward who buried his safely in the ground. Both parables make a powerful point to all who identify as His servants but aren’t willing to do the work: True service to our Lord is proactive, not passive.
But too often, we have adopted a brand of personal faith that expects God (and other people) to do all the work of seeking, buffeting, and striving for us. We may call this “letting go and letting God” – God calls this being wicked and lazy servants. Yes, He is the Author and Finisher of our faith, but He calls us to diligently seek after Him (Heb. 11:6, Matt. 7:7). He provides armor for us, but we need to “take it up” and “strap it on.” (Eph. 6) He gives us His Word, but He wants us to study it and equip ourselves with it (2 Tim. 3:14-17). Yes, He wants us to rest in His sovereign will, but he also commands us to be “watchful,” “alert,” “prepared for action,” and “ready” for a life that He describes not as a journey to walk though, but as a race to be run (Heb. 12:1-3), and a battle to be fought (Eph. 6:12).
And along the way, we should expect to face situations where no one is telling us exactly what to do with our talent, or exactly when the Bridegroom will come.
We all want to be godly, wise, strong, disciplined women (like the heroines we mentioned earlier), but probably our biggest barrier will be the idea that getting ourselves there is someone else’s job – or that if we’re not there, it’s someone else’s fault. And yes, most of us have been let down by people who have mis-taught us or not equipped us at all. In this day and age, we should all expect that there’s a lot missing or out-of-place in our thinking and training. But if we want to grow into full maturity, one of the first steps is assuming full responsibility for where we are and where we go from here. If we’re adults, and we have Bibles, the only thing standing between us and a better understanding of what God requires of us is our own failure to seek it out for ourselves. If we’re being proactive servants, we should have a serious and self-motivated drive and thirst for understanding God’s mind on everything that pertains to our lives, without waiting for others to figure it out for us.
Now, that said, we can’t underplay how common real spiritual bondage and false teaching are, and how much they can confuse us, blind us, bind us, and betray us into the hands of those who would even abuse us physically. Some of us will have a longer road ahead of us in learning to interpret Scripture accurately, unraveling bad interpretations and hermeneutics woven into our thinking since childhood. But there is only one way out even from that level of bondage and confusion: actively searching God’s life-giving words for ourselves. The fact that Scripture “renews the mind” means that no one has to be permanently damaged by bad ideas or false doctrine. As scarred and confused as some of us may feel, none of us are so blinded that Scripture itself can’t enlighten our eyes; none so crushed that it can’t revive our souls; none so ignorant that it can’t make wise the simple; none so in bondage that the truth can’t set us free.
Hope for Holiness
And there are none of us so blighted with sins, ungodly dependencies, and apathy that God’s grace can’t pour into us new love, new zeal, new faith, new strength, new life. How many of us felt burdened or discouraged by the list of sins above? The good news – to be precise, the Good News – is that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Tit. 2:11-14)
He has saved us eternally from the condemnation of our sins, but He is also saving us from slavery to our sins right here and now. Though we’ll never be perfect this side of heaven, “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16) His grace is so powerful that it can even give us daily victories over our sin – our sins! – right here, right now. Victories over our vanity, our fear, our idolatry, our lack of steadfastness, our selfish ambition, our spiritual instability – even our very lack of hunger and zeal for Him.
If we’re still in bondage to any of the things above, we shouldn’t take that as confirmation that we’re just hopeless failures as Christians. It might have a more simple explanation: that we haven’t fully admitted that we were “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20), and “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our forefathers…. with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18,19), and followed that up with obeying some of the very practical (and painful) directions He has given us for winning the battle against sin:
To “sow to the Spirit” instead of sowing to the flesh (Gal. 6:8)
To “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11)
To “put off the old self with its practices and…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9-10)
To “crucif[y] the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24)
To “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14)
To “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7)
To “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1)
To “set our minds on the things above, and not on the things which are on earth” (Col. 3:2)
To be “building yourselves up in your most holy faith” (Jude 1:20)
It’s only the Holy Spirit Who can give us the strength to do these things – we cannot do them on our own strength – but how much are we claiming His daily help in doing them? If the power to do these things is lacking, we need to ask the Lord for more. If the desire to do these things is lacking, we need to ask the Lord for more. If our faith that He can answer is lacking… we just need to ask Him for more! (Mark 9:24) We need to stop despairing over our own inability to make progress on these things, and cast ourselves utterly on the power of His Spirit to help us. He promises He will not fail us.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Pet. 5:8-10)
Read the next article: Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 6: Fight This Fight