The Fifth Column

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
— Romans 7:18-19 (ESV)

You frequently come across the term, “fifth column,” in military and spy literature. It refers to a clandestine group of people who attempt to undermine their own country from within through subversion and sabotage.

The term originated in the 1936 Spanish Civil War. General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist Army defeated the Republican Army in Madrid. This victory was instrumental in the establishment of his dictatorial regime in Spain later. When he was asked about the key to his victory, General Franco attributed it to his fifth column. He explained that he had four columns of troops attacking Madrid from outside the city and a fifth column from inside. The fifth column working undercover was the surprise element that seriously weakened the Republican Army.

Likewise, Satan also has an alibi operating clandestinely in us in the form of our sinful passions. This is his fifth column. Depending on the versions, the bible uses the terms, flesh and sinful nature, to describe these sinful passions. The devil exploits our sinful passions with temptations – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle, Paul, explained how Satan takes advantage of our sinful nature (Romans 7:18-19). In as much as we want to do good, we often fail. We end up doing the exact opposite. We have the right desire, but we lack the ability carry it out. We delight in the “law of God,” but we are taken captive by the “law of sin” and succumbed to it (Romans 7:21-23). It is a frustrating experience. I am sure you can identify with Paul’s struggle. It is our common struggle. No one on this side of heaven is spared from this agony.

Different people struggle with different kinds of temptation. I might stand strong without much problem against the lure of money, but another person might be tempted to compromise, steal or even kill when the opportunity arises. You might never have any issue with gluttony, but it is a struggle for others.

Satan is smart. He tailor-fits a suite of temptations for you such that you would find it most difficult to resist and parry off. Sexual temptation is usually part of his offering. Especially for men, but women are certainly not exempted in our time and age. Our highly-sexualised culture bears testimony that Satan’s strategy works. Invariably, you would always find shades of sexual content in commercials, movies and romance novels, Why? Because sex sells.

Solomon started well. He loved the LORD and he walked in the ways of his father, David (1 Kings 3:3). The LORD also loved Solomon. God had loved him from birth so much that He gave him a special name, Jedidiah, which means “beloved of the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:25).

God was so pleased with King Solomon that He blessed him with incomparable wisdom and discernment, and abundance of wealth. God also granted him peace with all the neighbouring countries. Solomon had everything in life. It seems that he could hardly be tempted with anything.

However, the devil soon found a chink in King Solomon’s armour. As Solomon became more and more powerful, the kings from the surrounding nations offered their daughters in marriage to him. This was how the ancient kings brokered peace and forged alliances with one another. Altogether, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines in his harem. That is a lot by any measure.

Solomon probably started off by thinking that he could manage the women. After all, he was a very wise man. Besides, the marriages were for the sake of political expediency. How else could Israel live in peace with its neighbours in such a hostile and volatile region.

However, as time passed, Solomon started to falter. The bible tells us that “King Solomon loved many foreign women” and “Solomon clung to these in love” (1 Kings 11:1-3). Political expediency was just a façade. His uncontrolled sexual lust was the primary driving force for acquiring such a large harem. It is probably a world record.

It is to be expected that with so many women to love, they would sooner or later become a distraction to him. Solomon gave in to the whims and fancies of his women. And as it went, he lost the fear of the LORD. Consequently, his wisdom departed from him and his love for God eroded.

All these made it easy for Satan to mobilise his fifth column against Solomon. We read this sad commentary in 1 Kings 11:4 (ESV) - “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” What a tragedy!

None of us is spared from Satan’s attack. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Therefore, we must be careful to keep our old sinful nature and its sinful passions in check. Do not let it become Satan’s fifth column in our lives to constantly disrupt and derail our walk with God. Crucify our flesh. Crucify our sinful passions and live according to the new nature in Christ.

In Christ, we already have the victory. Paul ends chapter 7 of Romans with a rhetorical question: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And he answered his own question: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25 - ESV).


Pastors Leslie & Adeline Chua