“There is nothing that Satan fears so much as that the people of God shall clear the way by removing every hindrance, so that the Lord can pour out his Spirit upon a languishing church and an impenitent congregation. If Satan had his way, there would never be another awakening, great or small, to the end of time. But we are not ignorant of his devices. It is possible to resist his power. When the way is prepared for the Spirit of God, the blessing will come. Satan can no more hinder a shower of blessing from descending upon God’s people than he can close the windows of heaven that rain cannot come upon the earth. Wicked men and devils cannot hinder the work of God, or shut out his presence from the assemblies of his people, if they will, with subdued, contrite hearts, confess and put away their sins, and in faith claim his promises.” The Review and Herald, March 22, 1887.
What are those hindrances? It is impossible to clear them away if we do not know what they are and Satan will work overtime to make sure we don’t understand what it is that separates us from God, preventing us from receiving the Holy Spirit.
There is much talk about receiving the latter rain. Crucial to receiving it is first to have unity, but what hinders this?
“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” II Corinthians 10:4, 5.
The hindrances are not worldly weapons; we cannot produce them ourselves, but they are strong in God and able to pull down strongholds.
The strongholds or hindrances that have to be removed are issues with the mind, thoughts, and reasonings, all of which must be brought into captivity to Christ. This is a battle of the mind.
The word imagination can also be translated as reasonings or arguments. So the imaginations of verse 5 are arguments or reasonings that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
When Adam and Eve sinned, the robe of light in which God had surrounded them, their robe of righteousness, was lost. They knew they were naked; they had lost the power and presence of God, resulting in a different relationship to God and with each other, and they made fig leaf garments to cover themselves.
Proverbs 18:10 NKJV tells us that, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” That was the protection that Adam and Eve had in their innocence before they fell. In their nakedness, our first parents experienced a new emotion—fear. Sin had separated them from their protection; they felt the need to protect themselves, so they hid from God. In our sinful condition we invent weapons or fortifications of our own to protect ourselves. Today these are called defense mechanisms.
The definition of a defense mechanism is any of various, usually unconscious mental processes, including denial, projection, rationalization that protect the ego from shame, anxiety, conflict, loss of self-esteem, or other unacceptable feelings or thoughts. The purpose of these defense mechanisms is to protect ourselves from mainly negative things with which we have to deal as a result of sin. We protect our egos—our pride that is at the very root.
Ellen White puts it this way: we “have many things to learn, and much to unlearn.” The Signs of the Times, August 27, 1894. We usually apply that to doctrinal things, but we have many other things to unlearn, such as the way we think and the way we deal with situations. It comes so naturally to defend ourselves, but we have to learn to think and deal with situations the way God would have us deal with them.
The base defense mechanism is denial. All other mechanisms come under that umbrella. Denial is unwilling to acknowledge an external reality that is apparent to others. For example, an alcoholic who has been in and out of jail for DUIs (driving under the influence) but refuses to acknowledge that he/she has a problem.
Repression and Suppression
There are two specific types of denial. One is repression, and the other is suppression. Repression is an unconscious action. It could be caused by a traumatic situation that the mind just puts into the subconscious without making a conscious decision. Suppression consciously makes a decision to put it aside. Sometimes we may procrastinate and think, “I can’t deal with this right now; I’ll just put it back in the corner of my mind.” That suppression builds up walls.
It is the devil’s plan to build up walled fortifications around people’s hearts and minds, and he starts very early in life.
If you are young and have God-fearing parents to confide in, you should be very thankful, because this world is a dark and wicked place. If you have the light of the knowledge of God and you understand that God loves you, you are very blessed, because many people in this world do not know that.
Growing up, I did not have that knowledge, and I went through very traumatic experiences where I had to deal with things on my own with no earthly person in whom to confide. My conception of God was not somebody to whom I could turn. So I dealt with things by repression or suppression. As an adult I have had to pray about this many times, because an individual cannot deal with something they cannot even recall. In dealing with things that have been repressed, Divine help is required, for they are subconscious.
Proverbs 30:12 deals with the issue of denial, which is basically just a self-deception. “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” They are in denial; they are deceived.
Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, illustrates this deception: “If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered Him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” John 8:31–33. Now this was blatant denial. At the time of their denial, the children of Israel were in bondage to the Romans, yet they declared that they had “never been in bondage to any man.”
Another area of denial is compensation. This is unbalanced thinking, when a person focuses on their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses. Within religion this usually focuses on externals.
Matthew 23:23, 24 reads, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”
Like the Pharisees, we also find it easier to deal with external things, to make sure we dress the right way, say the right thing and do all the things we are supposed to do to the exclusion of dealing with the weightier matters of the law that deal with the heart. God had given the Jews health laws that they were not to eat anything unclean, so they would strain the water to make sure that not even a gnat would fall into the water—dealing with the outward forms, yet they swallowed a camel—the heart issues. They were self-deceived.
Instruction is given to man how to consider himself: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Romans 12:3.
Projection is to project our own character traits, our own negative aspects or feelings or whatever it may be onto someone else.
Genesis 50:14, 15 give some examples of this, speaking about Joseph and his brothers: “And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father. And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.” Joseph had not given them any indication or any reason to think that way by his actions, but they projected their own fears onto Joseph.
This reaction is very common today. Often a jealous, accusing spouse turns out to be the unfaithful one. As we think, we judge other people. If we are unfaithful in our minds, then it is easy to project that onto other people, which is exactly what Joseph’s brothers did to him.
Jesus said, “Why do ye not understand My speech? even because ye cannot hear My word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” John 8:43, 44.
Jesus knew the thoughts of the Pharisees and what they were planning to do—plotting to kill Him. So, being convicted, they defended themselves by projecting their own evil thoughts back on to Christ. “Then answered the Jews, and said unto Him, Say we not well that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” Verse 48.
Rationalization is explaining away or making excuses for sin. An example of this is recorded in I Samuel 15:1–3: “Samuel also said unto Saul, The Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king over His people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
God told Saul to go and destroy the Amalekites, not only the people but everything, animals included; he was not to spare anything. Saul did not follow the commands of the Lord. “And the Lord sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the Lord? And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal.” Verses 18–21.
When Saul was found out, he made an excuse, justifying his action. “Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Verse 22.
When we are tempted to do something or not to do something bad, and begin to rationalize in our mind, we are parlaying with the devil who has a thousand excuses and a thousand reasons that he can put into our minds to justify our wrong action. The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9. Our only safety is to stand on the word of God and not to rationalize wrongdoing.
Abraham was afraid that Abimelech, the king of Gerar, would think his wife, who was beautiful, would kill him to take her for his own wife. In his fear he rationalized what to do; after all, “she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” Geneses 20:12. Abraham lied to protect himself, but to do that he had to rationalize; she was his sister, but she was also his wife. He would just not mention the part about her being his wife and only tell that she was his sister. A half-truth is still a lie.
Displacement means to transfer our affections from one thing to another after being hurt. An example of this could happen to a wife who is in an abusive marriage, so she takes her affections from her husband, placing them on the children, or some work, or something else. It is just another way of denying something that you don’t really want to deal with and putting it somewhere else. It deflects the pain or deflects the responsibility.
Samson reacted this way when, after being away for a time, returned to get his wife and found out that her father had given his wife to his companion. “But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in. … And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure. And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.” Judges 15:1, 3–5.
Samson, in order to deal with pain, took his aggression and focused it on something that was not even really related. The Philistines now suffer because of the pain that was caused by somebody else. How often do we do the same: take things out on somebody else or focus the pain, or whatever it is, on something else. This reaction could be in either a positive or a negative way, but the result is the same—displacing the emotion.
Sublimation is finding a new outlet to escape from reality such as a hobby or entertainment. It’s just a way of escape. Today, the devil has made sure we have plenty of ways to divert our minds and our attention. Jonah did this when God told him to go to Ninevah. He did not want to do it, so he went in the other direction. He found an escape from what God wanted him to do. (See Jonah 1:3.)
Fantasy is creating a new reality in your mind. When we do not want to deal with the negative things that are going on, we create a new scenario and live in a fantasy world. The devil again has many things to help us to do that with television, fiction, and all kinds of different things that feed our fantasies. He has made it so easy to live in an altered state of reality, in a different world. Fantasy is very powerful, as it engages the use of our imagination.
We should all be familiar with Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
The only way we can do that is by fortifying our minds with the truth of God’s word. God has given us an imagination to grasp hold of His word and to dwell upon those things, meditating on them. But if we are not doing that, we do not have anything upon which to draw.
“It is the special work of Satan in these last days to take possession of the minds of youth, to corrupt the thoughts and inflame the passions; for he knows that by so doing he can lead to impure actions, and thus all the noble faculties of the mind will become debased, and he can control them to suit his own purposes.” Child Guidance, 440.
“All are free moral agents. And as such they must bring their thoughts to run in the right channel. … The first work for those who would reform, is to purify the imagination.” An Appeal to Mothers, 29.
“Our meditations should be such as will elevate the mind.” Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene, 136.
Instead of admitting wrong, blame is switched to another. This reaction is one of the oldest and began in the Garden of Eden.
“And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. And He said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” They knew they were guilty, and God just asked them a question. He had not accused them of anything, but the man felt the need to defend himself. “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Genesis 3:9–12. Blame is immediately switched onto Eve and indirectly onto God, because He was the one Who made the woman. It is so easy to switch the blame and divert it to somebody else so that you don’t have to take responsibility for your own actions.
When the Lord asked the woman what she had done, in self-defense, she laid the blame on the serpent.
Advantageous comparison is basically comparing ourselves with others to excuse our own wrongs; for example, saying, “They do it also!” rather than taking responsibility for what we do. The apostle Paul knew it is not wise to compare ourselves among ourselves. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” II Corinthians 10:12.
By beholding we become changed, so whatever we behold is what we become. If we behold somebody else, comparing ourselves to them to build ourselves up, we are not looking at the positive aspects of their character, and we will be changed into the same thing.
“By beholding Christ, we would be changed into His likeness. But we shall never grow in grace by beholding the faults and mistakes and defects of someone else. Instead, we will become spiritually dwarfed and enfeebled. Let us keep looking to Christ, thinking of what He has done for us and of what He has promised to do. Thus we shall be changed into His likeness. This is true religion.” The Paulson Collection of Ellen G. White Letters, 318.
Our sinful nature desperately wants to look to others to find a way to rid itself of its nagging, guilty heart. The devil encourages many ways to accomplish that, as long as we don’t go to Christ.
Diffusion of Responsibility
Basically, diffusion of responsibility is the thought that everybody does it so it must be OK. History has proven over and over that the majority is not always right.
Jesus told the parable about a man who sowed seed in his field. He said, “Let both [the wheat and the tares] grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into My barn.” Matthew 13:30. But notice, it is the tares that are bound in bundles together. The devil is very successful at using that group-think or group-mentality to bind people together.
We need to make sure that we examine our own selves to see if we are using any of these defense mechanisms. As we consider these strongholds, it is easy to see how this would create dissention and confusion in the church. Our weapons against the strongholds are not carnal but spiritual. If we continue to use carnal weapons in the church, it will only create dissension. Every obstacle has to be removed, because only when there is unity in the church will the Holy Spirit be poured out.
Breaking Down the Strongholds
It is very simple to break down the strongholds. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31, 32.
It is the truth revealed in God’s word that exposes the obstacles, these strongholds, the truth as it is in Jesus, His grace, and His power that He gives to us to overcome these things and set us free. Satan’s strongholds are built and guarded in deception. As long as we are deceived, he has us and tries to keep us in that condition. His deceptions are designed to separate and isolate us from our true stronghold, which is Christ. That is why we must study God’s word.
Our primary offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. It works first through recognizing the obstacles by reading the Word and then claiming God’s promises, applying them by faith to see the strongholds crumble.
“ ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works’ [II Timothy 3:16, 17]. God has provided abundant means for successful warfare against the evil that is in the world. The Bible is the armory where we may equip for the struggle. Our loins must be girt about with truth. Our breastplate must be righteousness. The shield of faith must be in our hand, the helmet of salvation on our brow; and with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, we are to cut our way through the obstructions and entanglements of sin.” The Acts of the Apostles, 502.
The first thing needed is to identify the strongholds in ourselves so we can begin to deal with them according to God’s word, His grace and His power. The divine diagnosis to the church of Laodiceans for this condition is found in Revelation 3:15: “I know thy works that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest , I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
Here is a church that is really in denial of its own condition, and now God is going to give them a prescription to heal it. He says, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Verse 18.
The first thing needed is the eyesalve, the anointing to see and understand the heart issues with which we are dealing. “No man can of himself understand his errors. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ Jeremiah 17:9. … In one way only can a true knowledge of self be obtained. We must behold Christ. It is ignorance of Him that makes men so uplifted in their own righteousness. When we contemplate His purity and excellence, we shall see our own weakness and poverty and defects as they really are. We shall see ourselves lost and hopeless, clad in garments of self-righteousness, like every other sinner. We shall see that if we are ever saved, it will not be through our own goodness, but through God’s infinite grace.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 159.
Jesus said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” John 5:39. As we study God’s word, with the Holy Spirit opening our minds, and we behold Christ in our imagination, we will see both others and ourselves in a different light.
Next needed is gold tried in the fire. Faith that works by love is needed to overcome the obstacles.
“It is the will of God that each professing Christian shall perfect a character after the divine similitude. By studying the character of Christ revealed in the Bible, by practicing His virtues, the believer will be changed into the same likeness of goodness and mercy. Christ’s work of self-denial and sacrifice brought into the daily life will develop the faith that works by love and purifies the soul. There are many who wish to evade the cross-bearing part, but the Lord speaks to all when He says, ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’ Matthew 16:24.” Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 249.
Again, we have to look to Christ, but we also have to take up our cross. As we follow Him and exercise His virtues, we will receive and develop that faith that works by love and purifies the soul, dealing with the issues that arise in a Biblical way, and not according to the flesh.
Then we have to put on the white raiment that the “shame of thy nakedness not appear (Revelation 3;18).” That is the righteousness of Christ which covers our sins. Once we break free from protecting ourselves, the Lord does not leave us vulnerable but steps in with His own protection. “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that trust in Him.” Nahum 1:7. By faith we can trust in Him through every circumstance. However uncomfortable the situation in which we find ourselves, we can run to Him for shelter.
The Lord is our stronghold. “We need to educate the soul to lay hold, and hold fast the rich promises of Christ. The Lord Jesus knows that it is not possible for us to resist the many temptations of Satan, only as we shall have divine power given us from God. He well knows that in our own human strength we should surely fail. Therefore every provision has been made, that in every emergency and trial we shall flee to the stronghold. … We have the word of promise from lips that will not lie. … We must individually cherish the faith that we receive of Him, the things He hath promised.” Our Father Cares, 99.
We all crave the latter rain, but are we ready to receive it? Is our church ready to receive it? Let us arm ourselves with the spiritual weapons to fight the devil and be ready for Jesus’ return. This is my prayer.
Jim Stoeckert is a Bible worker for Steps to Life.