When I read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis over a decade ago, I was struck by this strange idea that, while Biblical, I’d never fully considered. The idea is that thoughts, behaviors, or feelings that don’t reflect God are directly from Satan. I always just considered them to be from me, from that place inside me that is full of failure, full of sin, full of complacency and laziness, the place that resists the Spirit. The Screwtape Letters call a spade a spade. If it’s not from God, it’s from Satan. I had forgotten all about that idea for years until a recent conversation with a friend. She pointed out that not every thought I have is my own and I, therefore, don’t have to acknowledge or accept the devil’s lies.
Satan wants me to be unhappy. He wants me unhappy so that I will turn to vice that destroys me (and man, do I have my vices). Satan wants me unhappy so that I will be a person who makes others unhappy, too. He wants me unhappy so that I will turn into a person who hurts people or hurts myself. Right now the way Satan is actively working to make me unhappy is by planting seeds of anger, resentment, jealousy, division, and rivalry. Oh, dear. I just realized that last sentence was Galatians 5:20 almost word for word. That was scary and unintentional.
I see Satan working hard to make those things grow in me. What’s scarier is that he’s even working to convince me that if I foster the growth of those things I will actually be happier and better off – a thought that if looked at with any kind of clarity of mind is easily debunked. I’ve become a person who can go from having “forgiven” someone to changing my mind in the space of a sentence. I’ve become a person who finds reasons not to love someone rather than reasons to love them. (Perhaps I should be the kind of person who doesn’t seek to find reasons to love someone, but loves them regardless of a presence of reasons. There’s something there, I think.) I’ve become a person who believes that my righteous anger is serving the world in some kind of heroic way. Everyone needs to know that I am right and they are wrong! You’re welcome, world. I have shined a light on the flaws of another, and now you know that so-and-so is wrong! Really?
This may surprise you, but it actually isn’t making me happier or better off. This type of life isn’t especially fulfilling, I’m afraid. In spite of that – I’ve been living it. I’ve been living in a Galatians 5:19-21 place. Let’s go ahead and call it “living in the flesh” since that’s what scripture calls it.
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immortality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21
Not everything listed in this scary, sin-filled passage applies to me, but enough of it does that it feels like God is holding a neon sign that says, “HEY, GIRL. THIS IS YOU.” Guys, you know you’re in a bad place when a scripture listing a bunch of evils including witchcraft and orgies applies to you so thoroughly that it’s simpler to list the parts that don’t apply to you, rather than the parts that do. Sigh. Moving right along.
Anyway, I’ve been living a life of the flesh and thinking it was benefiting me, while all along it was slowly chipping away at me and molding me into a Satan-shaped person.
That was a real bummer. Let’s get back to what I mentioned before about not every thought being my own.
This is where I felt the message from The Screwtape Letters was especially powerful. Satan doesn’t usually come at me in an obvious way. He doesn’t appear on my shoulder and yell, “You should become a murderer!” followed by maniacal laugher. That’s never happened to me. Instead he is the quiet and constant whisper that comes to me in my own voice. “They deserve your anger. Forgiveness means you let them get away with this. You have a right to be mad. After all, they ARE wrong. Who cares if they are hurting, they hurt YOU.”
Thoughts like this, while they might come to me in the disguise of my own voice, are not from me. They are from a force working against me, aiming to destroy me. They are from Satan.
Anger, resentment, jealousy, division, and rivalry are not from me. I know that. I don’t know that because I’m an especially good person. I think we’ve established here that that’s not true. No, I know these things aren’t from me because that’s impossible. I am filled with the Holy Spirit. I am not my own. (1 Corinthians 6:19) I am made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). So how could those things possibly be originating from me? Those things cannot exist where God exists. The Holy Spirit cannot abide in a temple full of anger. It just can’t.
Since we already delved into Galatians 5, let’s go back there. This time I want to focus on the bit of scripture that comes before that ugly list of junk.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Galatians 5:16-17
What I take from this passage is something that I find extreme, but so incredibly comforting. The flesh is opposed to the Spirit and the Spirit opposed to the flesh. My thoughts, feelings, and actions cannot be driven by both the Spirit and the flesh simultaneously. A spring can’t produce both fresh and salt water. (James 3:11) The Spirit is God. God cannot sin, and God cannot lead us to sin. If the choices I am making and words I am speaking are the overflow of the Spirit that is in me, it is IMPOSSIBLE for those things to also be sinful. If I sin, I have made a choice to ignore the pull and power of the Spirit of God that is within me.
This has opened my eyes to the power I have over these thoughts that Satan is trying to plant in me. They don’t belong in me. I belong to God, and anything from Satan cannot thrive as long as I am filled with the Spirit. This means that when these thoughts come and try to poison my mind, I – or rather the Spirit of God – can kick them out and they have to leave. I am filled with what is divine. (1 John 3:24)
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time battling these evils and believing that I am evil for having thought them. I’ve believed that they come from deep down, from the “real me” that has always wanted to turn loose and destroy the people around me. I’ve believed that I’ve just been pretending all along to be the kind of person who loves, who forgives, who creates peace. I’ve been filled with the anxiety that some day soon the people I love will wake up and realize that I’m evil, a person full of poison that is spilling over onto whoever is nearby. I worry that I’ll wake up one day and they’ll all be gone. I have spent time living in fear that there is no “cure” for me, and that the Galatians 5:19-21 in me is so deep that it could never give way to the Galatians 5:22-23 that I long for.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
I also know that that’s wrong. I know that is what Satan wants me to believe. He wants me to feel beyond repair and too far gone. He wants me to forget that there is no more powerful force than our God. Since I now know that voices from Satan have no dominion over me, I’m going to tell that voice to shut up. I’m going to listen to this one instead. I’m going to listen to the voice that reminds me of the power of our God to take back lost causes. I’m going to listen to the knowledge that our God doesn’t believe in the concept of “too far gone.”
A God whose cloak dispenses enough power to heal a woman of faith can heal me of my anger.
A God who says to a disease, “Go” – and it goes – can tell my bitterness to leave.
A God who forgives “them, for they know not what they do” can teach me to forgive when I don’t know how.
A God who raises from the grave and restores to life what has been long dead can wash the rot off of my heart and bring it back to Him.
Knowing these things, I will pray in full faith that those who ask for the guidance of the Spirit will receive it. I pray to be filled with the Spirit, knowing that a person full of the Spirit will inevitably produce its good fruits.
Hey there, I’m Stephanie.
I’m a transplanted Texan living in Henderson, Tennessee with my husband Kyle and dog Bellatrix. I have a degree in Graphic Design from Freed-Hardeman University. I’m the designer at D. Long & Co. in Savannah. I also own and operate a photography business specializing in weddings, engagements, and birth stories. (You can see my work here: www.stephaniebengephotography.com)
I spend my free time crocheting, cross-stitching, baking, journaling, reading, watching addicting tv shows, and binge-listening to my favorite podcasts. I make amazing chocolate chip cookies. I cannot keep any kind of plant alive. Not even a cactus. I’ve killed several.
I’m currently diving deep into the process of improving myself through the power of the Spirit. I hope to be a better reflection of Christ on the other end.
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