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One reason why it is important to understand our position in Christ is that the devil seeks, in every way that he can, to keep us from growing into spiritual maturity. He wants to destroy us. Dealing with this is so intense and so strenuous that Scripture describes it as fighting a man-eating lion or waging warfare against an enemy. The devil is a liar (John 8:44), a deceiver (Revelation 12:9), a tempter (Matthew 4:1-11). He comes to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). He has a number of names: the devil, satan, the enemy, the evil one, the prince of this world, the god of this world, Lucifer, Beelzebub. Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), “to destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). He taught his disciples to do the same.
Some Christians use the term “spiritual warfare” to describe the conflict we have with the devil and his demons. Other Christians, and many non-Christians, may find the term puzzling and confusing. In particular, they may read into that term a suggestion of the religious wars in Europe that killed so many people. That is not what Scripture says about it. This fight is not against flesh and blood, not against humans. It is against evil spirits. (See Ephesians 6:12.) Our weapons are not physical weapons; they are truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:10-18). However, to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding, I shall not use the term.
It is important to understand the existence of this conflict with the devil, but also not to overemphasize it. The devil is a defeated enemy. He still has the capacity to cause a lot of damage, but he is defeated and his ultimate destruction is sure.
SPIRITUAL CONFLICT EXISTS
There Are Evil Spirits
Scripture makes it clear that there are good and evil spirits. There is God, and his ministering angels. (See Psalms 34:7, 91:11-12.) There is satan, and his evil spirits. (See 2 Corinthians 11:14-15.) There are “rulers of the darkness of this world,” and “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV). There is “…the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2 NIV). John warns, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).
Scripture does not tell us a great deal about these evil spirits, but it tells us enough to give us a good idea of what we have to deal with. Jesus told his disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:19). Revelation 12:9 shows satan being cast out of heaven. “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). From these and other Scriptures, many believe that satan was an angel who rebelled against God, and that his demons are also fallen angels. As such, they are spirits.
There are some who doubt or deny that the devil exists. The Scriptures I have already referred to, and shall refer to later in this chapter, make it very clear that he does exist. Following are some additional references for those who want to pursue the issue further: Job 1:6-12, 2:1-7; Matthew 13:38-39; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 12:7; 1 Timothy 4:1.
Do evil spirits actually exist today? I have absolutely no doubt that they do. Scripture says clearly that they do exist, and Scripture speaks for all time.
One thing that Scripture makes clear is that God and the devil are not equal. God is the Creator of all things. The devil is a created being. (See Colossians 1:16.) So God has power over the devil. (See Ephesians 1:21-22.) This is shown clearly in Job, chapters 1 and 2, where God gave satan permission to harm Job, but God set limits on what satan could do to Job. (Also see Luke 22:31.)
There Is Conflict Between
There is conflict between these good and evil spirits. Scripture gives us glimpses of it. God is the Lord of hosts, the Lord mighty in battle. (See, for example, Psalm 24:8-10.) Joshua had an encounter with one who identified himself as “Commander of the army of the LORD” (Joshua 5:14). Scripture speaks of the “armies in heaven” (Revelation 19:14). It tells us that “War broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon [satan]; and the dragon and his angels fought” (Revelation 12:7). Jesus came to earth to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). (Also see Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:15.) Daniel tells of a time when an angel from God was delayed 21 days by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” until the powerful archangel Michael came to his aid (Daniel 10:12-13). Evidently this “prince” (literally, ruler) was a spiritual power. What human could resist God’s angel for 21 days?
We Humans Are Involved
Consider carefully the following Scriptures that describe our ongoing conflict with the devil and his demons:
(Also see Romans 7:22-23; Galatians 5:17; Colossians 2:14-15; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 4:4. And see Chapter 8 of this book.)
There are some who say that, because Jesus triumphed over evil forces on the Cross, we have no more conflict with them. The short answer to this is that most of the Scriptures quoted above are from letters written to believers 15 to 30 years after Jesus’ Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. Evidently James, Peter and Paul did not consider that conflict with evil spirits had ended. Satan will not meet his final doom until he is thrown into the lake of burning fire, after Jesus’ Second Coming. Until then, although basically defeated, he still has power to do much harm.
Scripture shows us that we Christians are involved in an ongoing conflict with evil spirits.
Some have suggested that the “roaring lion” of 1 Peter 5:8 is a toothless lion incapable of doing harm. That is not Peter’s simile. Peter speaks of a lion who seeks to, and does, devour people.
In the face of the Scriptures quoted above, I do not see how anyone who believes in Scripture can deny that conflict with evil spirits exists here on earth now, and needs to be taken seriously, and that believing Christians are involved in it.
When we are in a state of conflict, we have two choices. We can deal with it, or we can shut our eyes to it and let ourselves be beaten up. The devil is a ruthless and determined enemy. There can be no compromise with him. A policy of appeasement will not work. He will not go away just because we don’t want him there.
THE DEVIL’S PURPOSES AND TACTICS
God’s desire is that his will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). The devil’s desire is exactly the opposite. He opposes God’s will on earth in every way that he can.
God “desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). (Also see 2 Peter 3:10.) The devil seeks to prevent men from coming to salvation. If they are saved, then he seeks one or more of several things: (1) to lead them into error so that they will cause harm to the body of Christ, (2) to render them ineffective, or (3) to cause them to backslide and abandon their faith. He comes to “kill, and to steal, and to destroy” (John 10:10).
The devil has a variety of tactics. He uses both doubt and fear to attack our faith. He tempts us to do ungodly things. He lies and deceives. He uses discouragement, confusion and apathy to try to make us ineffective. 24
One thing clear is that the devil never lets up, except for his own tactical purposes. Paul says we “wrestle” (KJV) against evil spirits. Wrestling has no time outs, no breaks. Greek athletes often wrestled to the death.
It is a mistake to think that the devil causes every set-back that we suffer. We are tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11, 6:13), but we are also tempted by our own desires (James 1:14). Some illnesses are caused by the devil (Luke 9:37-43, 13:16), but many others have natural causes. Some accidents may be caused by the devil; others are caused by our own carelessness or by circumstances beyond our control. Some trials may be caused by the devil; others are caused or allowed by God to teach, discipline and strengthen us. (See Chapter 19.) But whatever their cause, the devil will try to use them for his purposes. But if we love God, then God will make those things work out for our long-range good (Romans 8:28).
Some Scriptures speak in terms of a direct frontal attack by the devil or his evil spirits. (See Ephesians 6:10-18; James 4:7; and 1 Peter 5:8-9.) The enemy makes a frontal attack and we stand against him.
There are other times when we find ourselves hit by a mental stronghold, or mindset, or blind spot, that has been there all along. Perhaps we did not know it was there, or perhaps we thought we had dealt with it, only to find it coming back. This is what 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 is dealing with. It does not speak of demons or evil spirits. It speaks of things in our mind—strongholds, arguments, and pretentious thoughts that hinder us from knowing God. Our object is to make every thought obey Christ. Mindsets, strongholds, thought patterns and the like have been set up inside us by our own flesh and by the world system. Satan will use these to make us ineffective, or to lead us into error, unless we uproot and demolish them.
Note one other difference between these two types of conflict. We cannot destroy evil spirits. We can only resist them. But we are told to destroy our internal strongholds.
HOW DO WE STAND OUR GROUND
When the devil attacks, we “resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9 NIV). “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). “Stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” (Ephesians 6:13-14 NIV).
These Scriptures tell us not to compromise with, or negotiate with, or try to appease the devil. If we stand our ground against him, then he will go away. He may try to come back again, but if we continue to stand firm, he will go away. This is an important aspect of our standing firm in the faith.
Stand in God’s Power
When dealing with the devil, we stand in God’s power, and not our own. “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). We take up all the spiritual weapons that God has given us (Ephesians 6:13). We fight with spiritual weapons that have divine power (2 Corinthians 2:4). God provides his incomparably great power for those who believe (Ephesians 1:19). Of ourselves, without God’s power working within us, we cannot expect to prevail. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5). But in God’s power, we can and will prevail.
One of the devil’s schemes is to try to discourage us and make us feel weak and helpless. When this happens, we need to do as David did. When things looked very bleak, he “strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). Again he cried out, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, for the help of His countenance” (Psalm 42:5). (Also see Psalms 42:11, 43:5.) When we are feeling downcast, discouraged, weak, we need to make a conscious effort to fix our minds on God and his mighty power. A Scottish evangelist I knew has said, “Whenever you’re feeling downhearted, read about the glory of God!” It’s good advice. It works.
Submit Ourselves to God
“Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). To submit, hupotasso (from hupo, under and tasso, to arrange), means to subordinate, to obey, to be under obedience. It implies a military type of discipline. Paul expresses this clearly in Romans, chapter 6. “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13 NIV). (The word translated “instruments” is hoplon, which literally means “weapons.”) “…you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Romans 6:16 NIV). (See Chapters 16 and 17.) It is when we are submitted to God that we can stand against the devil in God’s power.
Scripture warns us not to give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27). When Jesus was about to be arrested, he said, “…the prince of this world [the devil] is coming. He has no hold on me” (John 14:30 NIV). We need to make every effort to avoid giving the devil anything he can grab hold of. An image will convey the thought. We can think of the devil as having Velcro. If we allow sin in our lives, then we have Velcro that he can attach to. It was because Jesus was sinless that he could say that the devil had no hold on him. There was nothing in Jesus to which the devil could attach himself. This is part of being submitted to God.
Be Watchful and Alert
“Be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV). “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matthew 24:4). In a state of conflict, alertness and watchfulness are necessary.
The devil often works by deception and trickery. He slides in a little insinuation, and then tries to build on it. (See, for example, Genesis 3:1.) We need to be alert and watchful to catch this kind of thing quickly, to nip it in the bud.
Guard Our Minds and Hearts
“Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). The devil is a liar and the father of lies. Lying is his natural language. There is no truth in him (John 8:44). He is constantly trying to place false and lying thoughts in our minds, and to take advantage of any false thoughts we may have.
Sometimes we say that we believe God’s word, and we do believe it in our mind, but in our heart we may actually believe something quite different.
We need, therefore, to keep constant watch over our thoughts and our words, so that we do not fall into the devil’s lies and deception. The U.S. Constitution defines “treason” as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” We do not want to commit spiritual treason by accepting and believing the devil’s lies and deception, thereby giving aid and comfort to our spiritual enemy, the devil. We need to check our thoughts and words against Scripture, and reject those which are not Scriptural. When we catch ourselves thinking or saying something that is contrary to Scripture, we need immediately to renounce it and repent of it, and to declare the truth of God’s word. Using God’s spiritual weapons of divine power, “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV). This process of taking our thoughts captive to obey Jesus Christ is a never-ending one. It continues throughout our Christian life. It is part of being watchful and alert.
This is one reason why it is so important to spend time reading and studying Scripture, and allowing it to become a very part of ourselves. It is when we know and understand Scripture, and have engrafted it into ourselves, that we are able to discern, and take authority over, any thoughts and words that are not Scriptural.
Don’t Blame God
Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:6; Luke 7:23). The Greek word for “offend” is skandalizo. According to Strong’s Dictionary of the Greek Bible, it means “to entrap, i.e. trip up…entice to sin, apostasy or displeasure.” He said that in the end times, many would be offended (Matthew 24:10). Therefore, we need to be on guard against taking offense. Jesus knew that we would go through trials that might tempt us to blame him instead of dealing with those trials according to Scriptural principles. (For a Scriptural understanding of pain and suffering, and how to deal with it, see Chapter 19.)
One of the devil’s goals is to try to put a wedge between us and God; so he will try to tempt us to become offended with, or angry at, God. If he can pry us away from God, then we become weak and vulnerable. If we continue to let the gap between us and God grow wider and wider, it can cause us to turn away from, and reject God, and can lead to our spiritual destruction. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered: and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:5-7).
In our modern American culture, blaming has become a way of life. As a result, when we go through trials and difficulties, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of blaming God instead of turning to God for guidance and leaning on God for strength. This is the way of the flesh, that leads to destruction, as opposed to being led by the Holy Spirit, which leads to life. (See Chapter 15.) We first see it in the Garden of Eden when Adam told God, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Adam first blamed God and then blamed Eve. Who knows how different our history, and our present life, would be if Adam had repented instead of blaming God?
I almost fell into this way of blaming in my situation. When I learned that my cancer had spread to the liver and lungs, I started to think, “If only I had had a colonoscopy several years ago, they would have caught this thing when it was much smaller, or even just a precancerous polyp. Why didn’t my doctors recommend a colonoscopy some years ago as a routine precaution? My doctors are to blame for my having this life-threatening condition.” From there it would have been a short step to saying, “God, why did you allow this to happen?”
I did not go down that road. I deliberately chose not to. If I had allowed myself to give in to that kind of thinking, I doubt if I would be alive today. If I were alive, a book written while I had that much bitterness in me towards God and my doctors would not have been of much value.
God guides us and blesses us in the real world—his world—not the world of our imagination. He gives us grace in the present moment—not the past (which is gone) or the future (which has not yet come). One of the devil’s tactics is to try to get us to dwell in the past (through regret, or shame, or missing the “good old days”), or in the future (through fear or hope or wishful thinking), or in our imagination (through anxiety or daydreams). Then we are no longer focussed on God’s real world, in the present moment. The devil has moved us away from the place of grace and blessing. My wife’s poem expresses this well.
Take the Initiative
The devil often tries to use discouragement or confusion to keep us from functioning effectively. When we get into a negative or discouraging frame of mind, we need consciously to shift gears so as to focus our thoughts on God. We can declare Scriptural truths that are the antidote to those feelings and the thoughts that underlie them. We can follow the example of David, who strengthened himself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6) and exhorted his soul to remember God’s goodness and trust in him (Psalms 42:5-6, 103:1-5).
When, as happens to all of us, we find ourselves feeling “yucky,” we need to say, “This is not where I need to be. I’m going to change it”—and then take ourselves to another place. As we do this, we begin to get a list of things we can do that will drive away these confusing, discouraging moods. It may be reading Scripture, listening to uplifting music, asking God to show us what the problem is, talking to or praying with a friend, changing our activity, getting some physical exercise, or whatever. We need to use whatever works for us. When we find ourselves in the wrong place spiritually, we mustn’t let ourselves stay there. We need to be alert to take control and change things.
When the devil attacks, when things go badly, when we feel discouraged or confused, when we find ourselves thinking ungodly thoughts, etc., we need to take the initiative. We do not have to sit there and allow the devil to attack us. Perhaps we need to identify what our weaknesses are, what we have done to make the attack possible, and decide to do something about them. Or we may need to pray or worship. This usually calls for a conscious and deliberate change in attitude or activity. We don’t just have to dig in and take it. We can do affirmative things to improve our defenses.
Use the Spiritual Weapons
All too often, in our Christian life, we fail to use what God has given us. In physical warfare, our soldiers have been issued powerful and effective weapons. But those weapons will not do them any good unless they use them. A rifle, or other weapon, that remains in the soldier’s backpack will not help him. Similarly, we need to use the spiritual weapons God has given us.
With these thoughts in mind, let us look further at Ephesians, chapter 6, and its list of the spiritual weapons God has given us, the “whole armor” of God.
THE BELT OF TRUTH—God’s word is truth. Jesus Christ is “the truth.” It is God’s truth that sets us free. Spiritual conflict is primarily a truth struggle.
The devil is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:45). He is a deceiver (Revelation 20:3, 8, 10). (Also see 2 Corinthians 11:14-15.) He loves to sow confusion. Our best weapon (defensive and offensive) against his lies, deception and confusion is to stand firm on God’s truth. To do this we must be well-grounded in God’s truth. We must be very sure of it, and alert to detect departures from it. We need to fill ourselves with God’s truth—as revealed in his Scripture—and be ready to use it at all times to confront the devil’s lies and deception. We need to remind ourselves of God’s truth and reject everything that is contrary to it. We need to know Scripture well enough so that we can discern and confront the lies that the devil keeps throwing at us.
One area where this is especially important is within the church, within the body of Christ. In Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-29, 37-43) the devil sowed the tares (weeds—symbol of evil) among the good wheat. He frequently sows falsity within the church, among believers. We need to be very alert to detect and confront falsity and seeds of deception within the body of Christ.
THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS—We stand in Christ’s righteousness, not our own. But at the same time we need to do all we can to become holy, as God is holy. This is part of how we get rid of any foothold the devil might seek to claim.
THE GOSPEL OF PEACE—The gospel tells us that we have been saved and are no longer under the power of sin. We are no longer in the devil’s kingdom. We are no longer his children. We do not owe any allegiance to him. The gospel also tells us of our position in Christ (see Chapter 11), which is absolutely basic to our ability to fight against the devil. Part of the good news is that God is all-powerful, that the devil cannot stand against God’s power, and that God has promised to protect his people.
THE SHIELD OF FAITH—Faith is essential to our Christian life. (See Chapter 18.) “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). Without faith in Jesus Christ, we have no salvation and no position in Christ. Without faith in God’s Scripture and his promises, we would find it very difficult to stand against our spiritual enemy, the devil. When he attacks us, we stand firm in the faith (1 Peter 5:9).
The faith that stops the fiery darts of the devil is a heart-felt faith, a belief that is based on all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all of our strength. The devil attacks our faith in two ways.
Unbelief can be a form of spiritual treason. We see this in Hebrews, where an unbelieving heart is referred to as “rebellion” and as “disobedience” (Hebrews 3:12, 16, 18, 4:11). We need to identify and reject unbelief whenever it crops up.
We must not allow the devil to undermine our faith.
THE HELMET OF SALVATION—All of our spiritual weapons depend on our salvation. It is only as we are saved, and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, that we can claim the other spiritual weapons. It is because of our salvation, and our willingness to commit ourselves wholly to Jesus Christ, that we can have God’s incomparably great power at work in us, and we can be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT—One of our most powerful weapons is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The word of God is our spiritual daily bread; we need to feed on it daily.
God’s word is a defensive weapon. By it we stand firm in the faith. When the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus stood on the word of God (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10), and the devil left him. The Psalmist, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, wrote, “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). We demolish strongholds, and take every thought captive to obey Jesus Christ, by declaring the truth of God’s word.
But a sword is primarily an offensive weapon. The devil cannot stand against God’s word. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he responded by quoting Scripture, saying, “it is written,” and the devil had no answer. When we declare God’s truth, as revealed in his word, the evil spirits cannot stand against it.
One of the ways we can use the word of God as a weapon of both defense and offense is to speak it out loud. When the devil seeks to get us to accept his lies, we reject them and assert against them the truth of God’s word. For example, if we are attacked with fear and doubt, we can declare that God is faithful, remind ourselves of what God has done for us and for his people, and remember that Jesus promised that he will always be with us (Matthew 28:20). We can declare that every knee must bow, and every tongue must confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). We demolish strongholds with Scriptural truth.
The devil cannot stand against the truth of God’s word. The more we declare it, proclaim it, teach it, preach it, assert it, pray it, and live it, the more we will have victory over the father of lies.
PRAY—A very important part of the weaponry that God has given us is to “…pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV). (Praying in the Spirit means to pray as the Holy Spirit directs, to pray under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.) Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
I believe prayer is our strongest weapon against the devil. By prayer we submit ourselves to God and seek that his will be done. By prayer we line ourselves up with God’s purposes for our lives. By prayer we come near to God and God comes near to us. (See James 4:8.) “…the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him” (Deuteronomy 4:7 NIV). The devil cannot prevail against effective prayer.
I want to close with one thought that is implicit in much of what I have said, but that needs to be made explicit. The focus of our thoughts should be on God. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV). “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1). The Lord inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3 KJV). As we focus on him, and bless and praise him, we draw near to him and he to us.
When the devil attacks us, we need to deal with it. But we should not let his attacks draw our focus away from God, for “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and from him we draw our strength.