“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. “
Spiritual warfare is generally overlooked and misunderstood. We journey through our Christian lives without giving intentional thought to our enemy, who is always prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). We rarely recognize spiritual warfare for what it is until we find ourselves entangled in it, and by that time, it is often too late to arm ourselves for the fight. John Piper summed it up well when he said, "The Church has been deceived into believing that we are in a time of peace while our enemy is on assault."
Though we may be ignorant of him, Satan is not ignorant of us. He takes the saints and our plans into careful consideration. And when we make strides to accomplish the things that he hates—expanding the Kingdom, mortifying our sin, preaching the gospel—he will come for us. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “The Christian faith is a lifelong street fight.” The spiritual battle is real, and it is always occurring. But we have put our weapons down and exchanged them for a false sense of peace. Imagine being in a physical war where all your comrades are too busy scrolling and streaming to help you fight. The Church needs to remember who our enemy is, understand how he considers us, and put our armor back on.
Some believe Satan and his hosts are nothing more than a fairytale, while others see demons around every corner. Even those who fall somewhere in the middle either over or underestimate our foe, thinking Satan is unintelligent and ineffective or finding him to be overwhelmingly powerful and oppressive. These inaccurate pictures of our opponent hinder our ability to stand against him.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul identified the Christian adversary. He said that the fight is not against flesh and blood but spiritual and cosmic powers of darkness (Eph. 6:11-12). In other words, our battle is not with our fellow man, but with Satan. Satan himself is called a roaring lion, the tempter, the evil one, the father of lies, the deceiver of the whole world, and the accuser of God’s people (1 Peter 5:8, Matt. 4:3, Matt. 13:19, John 8:44, Rev. 12:9, Rev. 12:10). Paul calls him a schemer––one who is involved in making secret, deceitful plans (Eph. 6:11).
Paul also mentions what I believe is the hierarchy of Satan’s army: rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil. These are the angels who were cast down from Heaven with him following his rebellion (Rev. 12:9). Some of these demons are soldiers who use brute force to bring about destruction. Others specialize in manipulation and lies, creating false gods and religions to lead many astray. Collectively their sole purpose is to cause chaos and ruin.
Our adversary is cunning, deceitful, wicked, and ruthless. As the declared enemy of God, Satan desires the corruption of all that God has made good. And so he considers us as saints and believers, objects of God's undeserved mercy.
We get a picture of how Satan thinks of us in the book of Job. The book opens with Satan boasting to God that he had dominion over the earth. In response, God pointed him towards one place in which Satan did not have a stronghold: His faithful servant Job (Job 1:8).
Satan just scoffed:
“Then Satan answered the Lord and said, 'Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.'” (Job 1:9-11).
The devil had considered Job, but he did so malevolently. He concluded that Job was only so faithful because God coddled him, not because Job loved his Creator. Satan was wise enough to recognize that Job’s immense blessings were likely his weakness. So when he was permitted to attack, he went for the place he knew it would hurt the most.
Not all of us are overflowing with material blessings like Job was, but we are just as susceptible to Satan's temptations and schemes. In his book, Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare, Charles Spurgeon described how the enemy deals with us:
— He sizes us up. With a carefully trained eye, he looks us up and down, examines each of our infirmities, and notes every single one of our weak spots. What you can conceal from your closest friend, you cannot hide from the enemy.
— He takes into account our state of mind. We are more vulnerable to temptation and sin when we are distressed or despondent. On those days, our weak points grow weaker still, and we are easier to take hold of.
— He regards our condition and place in the world. He looks at a man of wealth like Job and strikes there. For the poor man, his poverty is where Satan can cast his net. Our position, our capabilities, our education, our standing in society, our calling—these are all doors through which he may attack us. Our greatest strengths are also our greatest weakness.
— He looks at our relationships. God loves unity between believers, so Satan craves disunity and dysfunction. He delights in the destruction of marriages, friendships, partnerships, and any other bond that he can get his hands on. He loves to separate members of the body from one another.
One of the clearest examples of how Satan works is recorded in the crucifixion of Jesus. The enemy corrupted Christ's inner circle of friends, turning one of them into a traitor. He used the hatred and self-righteousness of the Pharisees, and Pontius Pilate's fear of man to deliver Jesus into the hands of the hostile mob. He even caused the ever-faithful Peter to deny his Savior three times. Satan considered these people and then preyed upon them to bring about a terrible end.
Our adversary is far more cunning, intelligent, and dangerous than we think him to be. Many have fallen victim to his schemes, and all who do so pay the price in full. He and his armies do not rest, and we will be warring against them for as long as we live on this earth.
However, while we face a terrible and wretched enemy, let us not forget who it is that we serve. As Satan considered how to destroy Job, God considered how to sustain him. And the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the Sovereign Lord's glorious plan of redemption from the beginning. For our good and merciful God has much higher considerations for us than our adversary does. He has promised to complete the good work that He began in us (Phil. 1:6), and He faithfully provides us a way out when we face temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). True to His word, He defends and preserves those who belong to Him.
Therefore He has not left us defenseless in this fight and has equipped us with what we need to stand against the devil's schemes. Paul labels these tools as the full armor of God, and he describes six of them in his letter to Ephesus: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. The belt is our readiness to defend the faith that we stand on. The breastplate of righteousness is the genuine holiness of the believer whose every thought is captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), and whose mind is set “on things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). The shoes of the gospel of peace bring the good news of our reconciliation to God through Christ, and the shield protects us from the flaming arrows of temptation. The helmet of salvation defends us from doubts meant to make us distrust our Father. Lastly, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, our chief weapon above all others. When tempted in the wilderness, Jesus used accurate and applicable Scriptures to defend himself from his enemy's attack (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). We cannot underestimate the importance of Scripture and its use in our daily fight as Christians. For the Word is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Satan’s goal is to slander God. Because our redeemed lives are reflections of Christ, every act of sin we commit is another opportunity for the enemy to destroy the image of God. This is why we should not take Satan, his hosts, or his schemes lightly. We, the body of Christ, need to awaken to the real and persistent war happening around us, fight faithfully for the Kingdom, and be competent witnesses. For though the battle is severe, we know that our Savior has already overcome.
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