Yes, Virginia, there is an unholy trinity!
The English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, often called the “prince of preachers”, had great insight into the dangers, toils, and snares of the Christian life. It’s no wonder that he is often referred to as the last of the Puritans. Like the Puritans of old, he not only had a grasp of the gospel and the Scriptures, but he also had an experiential and biblical understanding of the realities of the Christian life.
There are droves of sermons, books, and articles that speak of the Christian life in almost fairy tale ways. Most of them make the Christian life sound like something out of a movie. They tend to portray a life of abundance, happiness, prosperity, and freedom from any conflict. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that one of the best selling books in most Christian bookstores described the Christian life as the best it gets right here and now. There are so many misleading resources that sadly Christians have become influenced by much of them. We need to get back to what Scripture says about the Christian life, not what the latest religious guru concocts to tickle the ears of the masses.
In several of his sermons, Spurgeon refers to something he called the “unholy trinity”. This trinity is Satan, the world, and self. This three-fold alliance is a Christian’s three worst friends. Satan will stop at nothing to make a Christian miserable knowing he cannot ultimately have his soul. The world is passing away and so are the baubles and things it tempts Christians with. And finally, self is something the Christian must continually battle — his sinful nature and a heart that is deceitful.
This “unholy trinity” as Spurgeon called them, was at one time the believer’s three best friends before they were regenerated. Unbelievers are naturally children of the devil, they love the world and the things in it and their god is self. Think about how many poems and songs encourage you to “follow your heart” and to “believe in yourself”. The idea that self and the heart is the greatest force is the banner cry of the world.
But a Christian is one who has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness (Satan’s kingdom) into the kingdom of Christ. A Christian is in the world but not of the world. A Christian now worships Christ and dies to self. A Christian doesn’t trust his heart, he trusts Christ and His Word.
Since a believer is now in this new state, those three best friends have now become his three worst friends. Actually, they are now his three worst enemies.
So where does that leave the Christian life? Well, on this side of heaven it means a life of constant war and battle. It means that a believer will live every moment battling Satan, the world and the remnants of their sinful flesh. It is far from our best life now. It is a life of daily struggle and battle. Yes, there is joy and peace because of Christ and the promises found in the Scriptures, but there is also constant spiritual warfare.
The concept of the easy Christian life has permeated the bookstores, church curriculum, and even pulpits so prevalently that you may very well be stunned at what has been stated so far. The idea of the Christian life being a battle and a war may sound incredibly foreign to you. We’ve been spoon-fed the lies of the devil so much that when we hear Biblical truth we often have a flinching reaction.
So where does Scripture give us this teaching? Where does Scripture paint the picture that the Christian life is a life of constant spiritual war and vigilance? One place it can be found is in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance,” The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Eph 6:10–18a).
In this passage often entitled “The Armor of God” we see Paul instructing all believers to put on armor. The only time anyone ever needs to put on armor is if they are going to war. Notice that Paul’s command is that we put that armor on and keep it on. Nowhere in Scripture are we ever told to put our guard down. We are never instructed to only wear the armor at certain times. This is because the Christian life is a life of constant battle. We are constantly battling that “unholy trinity”.
The idea of a constant battle sounds awfully discouraging until we realize that the armor is God’s armor. It is through His strength and power that we fight. Yes, we are called to fight but God is the one who gives us the strength and power to fight through the grace He provides.
Our enemy, Satan, is like a prowling lion seeking someone to devour. Our hearts are fickle and we must listen to the Sword of the Spirit (the Bible) over the whispers of our hearts. The world tells us that we just need that latest toy or a bigger house to be truly happy, but we need to remember that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He is our all-in-all.
The Christian life isn’t easy. Your previous three best friends are now your worst enemies. The Christian life is a weary battle day by day as we seek to put to death the deeds of the flesh and walk by the Spirit. (It’s that same Spirit that breathes new life into a believer’s weary soul day after day.) It’s a constant battle as we seek to override the whispers of the world and instead listen to the loud truths of Scripture. The Lord Jesus commands believers to die to self, take up a cross and follow Him. Remember that self is the primary god of the unbeliever’s life, and while stricken, the sinful nature still sets itself against the Spirit. A spiritual war is constantly going on both internally and externally in the Christian life.
The beautiful thing about this spiritual battle is that it has already ultimately been won by Christ. However, in His perfect wisdom, He has chosen to allow a war to go on in the lives of believers this side of heaven. I’m convinced that much of that reason is to conform believers more and more into the image of Christ. The battles against the “unholy trinity” have sanctifying effects as we learn to look and lean more and more on Christ in the midst of those battles.
What the Christian longs for is the battle to be over. That will happen either at death or at Christ’s return — whichever happens first. One often overlooked joyful point at a Christian’s funeral is that he no longer has to battle. He’ll never need to wear that armor again. But for believers on this side of eternity, we are instructed to battle using God’s armor by His strength and grace.
So we can dismiss the false teaching that the Christian life is easy and a bed of roses. It’s a life of constant strife and battle with the “unholy trinity”. However, the Lord Jesus Christ sees it fit that His people are made ready for heaven through the battles we fight equipped with His armor. God uses every battle to conform Christians more into His image. The battles are a reminder that we are nothing and He is everything. The battles keep us humble and dependent on God’s constant grace.
When you feel weary and it seems you’re gasping your last breath in the battle, you need to remember the vision John had in the book of Revelation. John sees Christ, the victorious King of kings, seated on a white horse. Our victorious King has won and the ultimate outcome is a life in the new heavens and earth where there will no longer be a battle with Satan, the world, and sin. That is where we keep our eyes focused (see Colossians 3:2) while in this life we make war through the grace and power of Christ against our three worst friends.