Spiritual Warfare: An Examination
The Deceiver. The Accuser. The Dragon. The Devil. The Adversary. The Tempter.For Christians, these titles correspond to one individual, Satan. For many, his name strikes fear into hearts and brings about images of evil and frightening faces clad with horns, sharp teeth, and awful eyes. For others, the imagery of the devil brings about a visage that is cartoonish with a goatee, pitchfork in hand, and a pointy tail. The problem with both views is that they overly simplify and make light of Satan's very real existence. This post is certainly claiming to be comprehensive, but I do think there are some important things to note here. So let's look at the bad news first and then the great news.
The Bad News
Satan is not an impotent foe with ambitions simply to detour you and make you have a bad day. In fact, the Bible teaches that Satan is a very real and formidable enemy. John says he (the devil) comes to destroy (John 10:10). He is referred to as our adversary and that we need to keep watch and be wary (1 Peter 5:8-9). The imagery that is used in this picture is one of a hungry lion who is seeking weak and easy prey. If you know anything about nature, or if you've ever watched Planet Earth or anything on the Discovery Channel, you know that lions are not in the wounding business. When a lion stalks prey it is because they are seeking to kill and devour. This is precisely the aim of our adversary, Satan. He is not seeking merely to hurt us, but rather he is seeking to eliminate us.But what does that mean and what do we do this knowledge? In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes some very interesting words:
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin. - Romans 7:21-25
Paul conjures up images of a war, but this war is unlike any great battle that mankind has faced in some field or with tangible weapons. This battle is spiritual. Paul alludes to this again when he says that we are not fighting in the flesh nor are the "weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). There is a battle raging and you and I are right in the midst of it. The interesting (and rather terrifying) truth is that we often do not even realize we are engaged in such a struggle against flesh and spirit, and I posit that is precisely where Satan wishes us to be. If we look at how Satan works in the Bible we never find an aggressive and heavy-handed approach. Why? If we see evil for what it truly is we would surely flee, but if what we see is nuanced and seemingly unharmful to anyone else then our guard is down and our defenses are lowered. In our spiritual vulnerability, Satan creeps in and uses his best (and most infamous) tool, deception.One need only look back to the Garden of Eden to see deception played out from the beginning. He used deception to manipulate and bring about rebellion against a Holy God (Genesis 3:1-6). Satan even attempts to deceive Jesus by offering him bread after Jesus had fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11). He is a master deceiver and as long as he can continue to deceive mankind, he will convince us that our sin really isn't a big deal and that we really are in control.In his phenomenal work of fiction (that reads very much like non-fiction) The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis paints this same picture as one demon (Screwtape) pens letters to his nephew and protogé (Wormwood) to showcase just how to keep humans in the dark. In one of these letters, Screwtape says to Wormwood, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts...”. Spiritual warfare is quite real and deception from the evil one keeps us caught unaware. Satan will use the arsenal of deceit to make us think that we are better gods than our Father.Now, most Christians would never make such an audacious declaration that we are a better god (at least not using those words), but our actions tell a different story. As we remain deceived we truly begin to disengage from seeking God's holiness and righteousness and we easily and tragically began to settle for our meager attempts to be holy and righteous on our own. We become the rulers of our worlds and the captains of our ships, and in our arrogance and pride we completely shut out the things of God and embrace the wicked nature of our flesh. Deception is powerful, but unfortunately, it is not the only tool Satan has at his disposal.Perhaps as powerful as deception and used with the same (or more) frequency is the tool of shame. Again let's travel back to Genesis 3. Satan had only just used deception when he then uses shame to continue the fight. God asks Adam where he is and Adam's response is that he was hiding because he was "ashamed" (Genesis 3:10). Shame is a powerful agent that causes all who are caught in its grasp to feel powerless, worthless, dirty, fear, and hopelessness. It's no wonder Satan loves this tool so much. In his book, Devoted to God - Blueprints for Sanctification, Sinclair Ferguson writes,
As the masters of the spiritual life have believed, there may be times in our pilgrimage when Satan engages in blackmailing us. We have secretly given in to sin. He whispers that we have failed; we are unworthy. He will keep our secret — so long as we keep it a secret too, and hide or disguise it. No one else must be told.We are already ashamed, but now, in addition, we fear what others will think and say. The result? We become isolated within ourselves; we feel there is a secret nobody else must know, we fail to deal biblically with our sin; we develop habits of despair about it. We thus hide our sin; we do not admit it even to God.This, insinuates the evil one, is the only safe way.All very subtly we have begun to lose sight of the fact that there is forgiveness. Satan will make sure that we continue to feel our guilt and shame. What would others in the church think of us?
Satan knows what you've done. He keeps it in his pocket and pulls it out at the precise moment of weakness for you and for me. He is the accuser, and if we are particularly vulnerable he will use shame and deception together to make us feel like God is the one causing these feelings within us that we are now altogether unworthy of any love or forgiveness by a truly Holy God. What we must remember at these moments is "There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). God is not our accuser. That mantle belongs to Satan. The fight is real, and it is for this reason the Christian is told to get ready and put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17).
The Great News
So now that we've gotten some bad news, let's take a minute and rejoice in the best news, and that news is that even with all his craftiness and cunning, Satan does not get the victory (Isaiah 54:17). As the sons and daughters of God, we have been promised not only an inheritance as heirs to God, but we've been promised that the Lord is victorious. Satan is powerful certainly by our standards, and I don't think any Bible-believing Christian disputes this, but in comparison to the power of Jesus, the enemy loses his power (1 John 4:4). Go back once again to Genesis 3 with me. God tells Satan that the seed of the woman shall crush or bruise his head (Genesis 3:15). That seed would be and is the person of Jesus Christ. It is he who has the authority, power, and ability to destroy and defeat the enemy.There is no greater time than this Easter season to celebrate and proclaim our hope in life in death as we remember the great sacrifice made on the cross where the blood of Christ was spilled, but thanks be to God, Jesus did not stay in the grave, but He is risen and we have hope and victory! All we need to do is confess our sin before a Holy God, acknowledge that Jesus alone can save (John 14:6), and call on him to deliver us, and he is faithful to do just that (1 John 1:9).This is the hope and the salvation of Christians. Satan wars and seeks to kill and destroy, but the great promise of Jesus is that those who put their hope and faith in Christ will not be overtaken (Matt 16:18). Jesus came to bring glory to the Father, to reconcile fallen man, and to destroy the father of lies (1 John 3:8). It is only because of and through Jesus that the Christian can rejoice and proclaim boldly and loudly that there is victory in Jesus.Be aware. Be on watch. Be sober-minded. Be ready. We are engaged in an ongoing and serious spiritual battle, and if we are depending on ourselves or anyone else (outside of Jesus) to deliver us we will find ourselves flailing aimlessly, but for those who trust in the Lord, they will not be moved (Psalm 125:1). We can rest confidently knowing that even though our trials are not over, and even though the adversary will continue to attack we can put our hope and trust squarely on He who is greater and not in our own wisdom (Proverbs 3:5). I'll leave you with a final note of courage and good news. Remember that no matter how fierce the battle gets or how strong your enemy may appear to be Jesus' promises are to be trusted and what he says is this:"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." - John 16:33