We conquer the enemy by conquering ourselves
– by Leo the Great (400-461 AD)
In the days of Saul and David, it was when the Israelites fell into sin that the Lord allowed the Philistines to oppress them. In order to regain the ascendancy over their enemies, the people were ordered to fast. The Israelites understood very well that they deserved all they had to endure at the hands of the Philistines because they had neglected God’s commands and given themselves over to evil practices. It was no use for them to try to win their freedom by taking up arms; they first had to get rid of their sins. And so they began to discipline themselves and to conquer the desires of the flesh in order to be able to conquer their opponents. When they fasted their oppressors gave way before them, whereas when they indulged all their appetites the enemy held them in subjection.
It is the same with us today. We have our own struggles and conflicts, and we can win by using the same tactics. The Israelites were attacked by human beings; we are attacked by spiritual enemies. We can conquer by bringing our lives into line with God’s will for us; then our enemies will give way before us. It is not their power but our lack of self-discipline that makes them a threat to us, and we shall weaken them by overcoming ourselves.
We must ask God’s help in this warfare because our only means of conquering the enemy is to conquer ourselves. How often we come into conflict with our own lower nature, with those unspiritual, unregenerate attitudes that scripture calls the flesh! What the flesh wants is opposed to what the spirit wants, and what the spirit wants is opposed to what the flesh wants. If the desires of the flesh are the stronger, then our spiritual faculties will be dragged down to the level of our lower nature and will be enslaved where they ought to be masters. But if we are determined to serve the Lord and find our joy in his gifts, if we trample underfoot our instinctive tendency to gratify ourselves and refuse to allow sin to rule in our mortal bodies, then our spirit will be in control and no strategy of the Evil One will be able to overthrow us. True peace and freedom can only be ours when the flesh is ruled by the spirit and the spirit is guided by the will of God.
Taken from ‘Reading Series from the Early Fathers on the Evil One‘ on the Living Bulwark July/August 2011 issue. Used with permission