In a recent sermon I compared the three great temptations in 1 John 2:16 to cupcakes. The desires of the flesh wants to devour the cupcake, the desire of the eyes sees the cupcake and has to possess it while the pride of possessions wants to own every cupcake and have the corner market on the best cupcakes. These three temptations form a type of unholy trinity of the id, ego, and superego within each of us.
Overcoming our human desires to consume, possess, and dominate requires spiritual discipline and hard work. I’m not advocating that salvation is hard work (it is, but it’s just that Jesus did all the hard work). What is hard is following the path Christ has called us to follow as a result of our salvation. That is where the difficult part comes in. My conclusion is that we live our whole lives fighting against these three demons of desire—the flesh, the eyes, and the pride.
If we could kill them it would be easier. The problem is they will just not die! We stab at them with a little bit of prayer but they heal. We punch them with a Bible reading or two and they fall down but get back up. We knock them in the head with worship and after they stumble they are right back at us. The best we can hope for; I think, is to so barrage them with spiritual power that they never have a chance to recover.
The ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines is vital for the follower of Christ if any kind of victory is to be had. Prayer is not something to be done sporadically. The temptations are always so close at hand that prayer must truly be an ongoing activity. This may very well be why Paul admonishes us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In my own experiences it is when I let off the gas pedal of prayer that I begin to feel the weight of the unholy trinity catching up on me from behind.
Worship, obviously has a lot to do with keeping the temptations on the ground and away from our soul. When we worship God; either alone in our devotions or in our weekly community of faith it has the effect of moving our thoughts off of ourselves and onto the Lord God. If we are thinking about Jesus, then the temptations are out of action for a while. There is an added benefit of worship and that is the concept of submission. When I submit to the Lord in worship—bending the knee, I am also submitting to the community of believers. I submit to the pastoral and spiritual leadership, I submit to the needs of others, and I submit my own agenda to that of the community. In this submission, the three temptations have no place because desire and pride never submit. Our act of submission squeezes them out of existence—temporarily. Remember, they never fully go away.
Service, Bible memorization, and study also help, but there is one more biggie. If we are thinking about these spiritual disciplines as keeping the unholy trinity ‘knocked out’, then this one is an upper cut: Fasting. When I go through a period of time in which I deprive my body of food, sweets, entertainment, or any other thing I might be fasting from I am telling my sensory input that I have control over it. I tell my body it doesn’t win, my will wins and my will is to follow God’s will.