The Excluded Middle

Neil T. Anderson in The Bondage Breaker has argued that the default Western worldview assumes a two tier system of reality. The upper level, or the realm of spirit beings and the supernatural, is comprehended through religion. The lower level, or the realm of material and the physical, is known through science and the empirical senses. In the Western mindset—no doubt a result of the influence of naturalism and Kantian thought—these two have little to do with one another.[1] On this view, spirit beings exist on a different plane and do not interact with us in the here and now, at least not in any meaningful way.

...there are supernatural forces at work in the world and realm in which we inhabit

According to Paul Hiebert, this mindset has bled over into the framework of ministry for many missionaries, rendering them much less effective in cultures that are more in tune with the reality of spiritual forces at work in our midst. These cultures understand a middle level—that there are supernatural forces at work in the world and realm in which we inhabit.[2] Spiritual forces are real, despite the apparent indifference that characterizes our church culture. We cannot allow ourselves to fall back into the default Western mindset that excludes this middle ground, lest we be rendered ineffective in our ministries and deceived by our ignorance of an enemy that has launched his assault on us.

The Tactics of the Enemy

Addressing the reality of spiritual warfare is made all the more urgent when we consider the tactical genius of our enemy. The strategies of Satan to thwart the will of God are truly baffling as he creates a worldly context in which sin is normalized and temptation of the flesh is around every corner. He is the accuser, he promises that we can be like God, he deceives us using the desires of our flesh and our ignorance of the truth, and he manipulates us using suffering.

I’m convinced, however, that one of the most powerful tactics in his deceptive arsenal is the temptation to pervert the believer’s God-given mechanism to worship. I have heard it said that instead of asserting that we were made to worship, it is more aptly stated that we were created worshiping. We cannot help but to worship, whether God, self, others, or things. It is part of being human. This makes sense when you think about how the Gospel restores us into relationship with the Father, a restored relationship that is characterized by our giving worship and His receiving worship.

An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life.

The strategy, of course, is to tempt the Christian to create idols. Contrary to the popular misconception, idols are not just a small statue in a pagan temple that is stolen by Indiana Jones. An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. The problem is that we have a tendency to create idols anyway, even without an external influence. This makes the temptation of idolatry easy pickins for the enemy. In a world that is controlled by Satan (i.e. 1 John 5:19; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 2), cultural mores, family values, and the values of the world are not necessarily those of Scripture. So, what is normal may not be godly. Idolatry is a very real threat because the flesh and the Satan-controlled world act like a greenhouse for growing idols as the enemy waters their growth with temptation.

Idolatry and Christian Temptation

It has been my experience that many believers do not fall prey to the temptation to create idols out of obviously sinful practices (though some do). Typically, the temptation is to make idols out of good things. Good things that are made into the ultimate thing are idols all the same. From the bird’s eye view, the satanic strategy is to pervert the worship of God, but in the more narrow perspective he tempts us to do this by twisting our usage of specific God-given virtues, needs, and pleasures. When this happens, we feed our need for God by some other means. In this sort of temptation:

  • Pleasure becomes sensuality
  • Work becomes obsession
  • Parenting becomes “meaning in life”
  • Friendship becomes one’s identity
  • Material things take the place of spiritual things
  • Life dreams take the place of God’s Great Commission
  • Taking care of yourself becomes self-centeredness
  • Finances become your daily and crippling worry
  • Presenting yourself well becomes vanity
  • Ministry becomes a power trip
  • Confidence in your identity in Christ becomes feelings of inadequacy
  • The need for food becomes gluttony
  • Career becomes identity
  • Hobby becomes all consuming
  • Contentment becomes comfortable living free from evangelism and discipleship
  • The list goes on and on…

Removing the Foothold

To create idols in our lives is to give the enemy a foothold that renders us ineffective in our mission. To remove the foothold, we have to remove the idols (1 John 5:21). Let me make a few suggestions:

If you are tempted specifically, pray specifically.

  • Evaluate where the idols are in your life. Ask yourself questions like “Who or what do you look to for comfort when it’s a bad day?”; “What do you daydream about?”; “What gets you through the day?”; “What makes you feel the most self-worth?” “What is the thing you want to be known for, either by your kids or others?”
  • Spend time asking the Lord to reveal where you are guilty of this sin.
  • Combat the lies of the enemy with the truth of the Lord. The light of revelation cannot help but to expose the worldly falsehoods that we buy into. This is precisely why we must put on the full armor of God in spiritual warfare. If there is an area of idolatry in your life, confess the sin and denounce the lie using Scripture.
  • Create a prayer strategy to combat the enemy. Prayer is the spiritual tool that thwarts the plans of Satan. If you are tempted specifically, pray specifically. If you are tempted with intensity, pray with intensity.
  • Renew your commitment to mortifying the flesh. We must kill the sin nature. Renew your commitment to deny self and follow Christ.
  • Claim victory over the enemy. The believer has been guaranteed victory over death, sin, and the world. Christ has defeated the enemy and we are in Christ. “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.” –John 16:33




[1] Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishing, 1995), 30-31.

[2] Paul Hiebert, “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” Missiology: An International Review 10 1 (1982): 43-44.